Lawrence v. Texas

Key Facts– Here, Texas made it a crime to have intimate contact with members of the same sex. Lawrence appeals his conviction under the statute.

Issue– Does a statute prohibiting homosexual conduct violate the Due Process right to liberty?

Holding– Yes

Result– Law overturned

Reasoning– Sexual conduct and lifestyle choices related to it should be respected by the state. This is a part of the “realm of personal liberty which the government may not enter.” Further, there is no legitimate state interest that justifies this.

Romer v. Evans

Key Facts– Colorado passed an amendment to its constitution to prevent the passage of laws protecting homosexual and bisexual people.

Issue– Is this a violation of Equal Protection?

Holding– Yes

Result– Amendment stricken

Reasoning– This law changes the legal status of homosexual and bisexual people as a group, preventing them from receiving any protection from discrimination, now or in the future. This desire to effectively harm a vulnerable group that is politically unpopular can never constitute a legitimate state interest.

Nguyen v. Immigration & Naturalization Service

Key Facts– A US statute determining whether or not the child of one US citizen parent and one non-US citizen parent was a US citizen imposed different requirements depending upon whether the mother or father was a US citizen.

Issue– Does this violate Equal Protection?

Holding– No

Result– Law affirmed

Reasoning– It’s easy to be certain of who a child’s mother is. It is much more difficult to be certain of paternity, especially when the parents are unmarried. From a practical biological standpoint, there are very real reasons for a legal difference in treatment.

United States v. Virginia

Key Facts– Virginia Military Institute (VMI), a public military college, admitted only men. Virginia’s discrimination against women was ruled unconstitutional in the Fourth Circuit.

Issues– Does VMI’s exclusion of women violate Equal Protection? If so, what is the remedy?

Holding– Yes. The remedy is to end the exclusion.

Result– VMI opened to women

Reasoning– There is no “exceedingly persuasive justification” for the state discrimination here. Rational basis is not enough, given the long national history of discrimination against women.

Craig v. Boren

Key Facts– Oklahoma passed a statute prohibiting some alcohol sales to men and women below a certain age, with the age being 21 for men and 18 for women.

Issue– Does a gender-based differential like this in a law violate the Equal Protection Clause?

Holding– Yes.

Result– Law overturned

Reasoning– As established by earlier cases, gender-based differentials in law are subject to some degree of scrutiny under Equal Protection. Statistical evidence offered here was insufficient to justify the regulation, and even if it was accepted as conclusive, the studies discussed would be insufficient to justify gender-based discrimination. This is clearly a higher standard than the rational basis test, though it is not strict scrutiny.

Frontiero v. Richardson

Key Facts– The uniformed services permitted a husband to claim his wife as dependent, but did not allow a wife to claim her husband as such, for allowance and benefits purposes. Lieutenant Frontiero sues to obtain the ability to claim her husband as a defendant under the uniformed services’ rules.

Issues– Does gender constitute a suspect category of discrimination under the Constitution? Is it unconstitutional for a government organization to discriminate based on gender in allocation of benefits?

Holding– Maybe and yes.

Result– Policy scheme overturned

Reasoning– Women, like minorities, have faced significant discrimination through American history. Here, the law violates basic norms in allocating legal burdens in an unnecessarily discriminatory way. Not all justices (only four) join the opinion that sex-based discrimination requires strict scrutiny, however.

Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1

Key Facts– The schools in this case chose to adopt student assignment plans relying on race to determine which schools children would attend. Parents sue, because their children were excluded from some potential schools solely based on race.

Issue– Can a public school system classify students by race and rely on that in making school assignments?

Holding– Only if necessary to correct past discrimination

Result– Racial classification plan overturned, lower court overruled

Reasoning– Only one of the two school districts discussed ever had a segregation program in the past. At present, its past segregation has already been remedied. There is no legitimate rationale for the present system that would survive the Court’s strict scrutiny. Further, the Chief Justice argues: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

Grutter v. Bollinger

Key Facts– University of Michigan used race as a factor in making law school admissions decisions, amalgamated with other forms of “diversity,” alongside other elements of its admissions criteria. A White student sued to fight her rejection, arguing that this policy weighed against her.

Issue– Is diversity a compelling state interest that justifies race-related admissions policies in public universities?

Holding– Yes

Result– Policy affirmed

Reasoning– The university’s policies make race one of various diversity factors that add a “plus” to a candidate’s application, rather than excluding people based on racing or including people purely based on race. It does not constitute a quota, which would be unconstitutional. The Court additionally notes that in time, race will no longer be a necessary consideration in admissions decisions.

Washington v. Davis

Key Facts– A qualifying test used to select police officers in Washington, D.C. is challenged here, because it apparently led to inequality of result in terms of the racial composition of the police force.

Issue– If a government policy has an unequal impact on different groups, yet is designed for neutral ends, should it be held to strict scrutiny?

Holding– No

Result– Test affirmed

Reasoning– This test is neutral on its face. If the Equal Protection Clause can be applied to strike down policies that are neutral,but may lead to discriminatory outcomes, there is virtually no limit to its application.

Johnson v. California

Key Facts– The California Department of Corrections (CDC) had an unwritten policy of racially segregating prisoners for up to 60 days when they entered a new corrections facility. Petitioner sues to overturn this policy.

Issue– Is strict scrutiny the proper standard of review for this policy?

Holding– Yes

Result– Strict scrutiny applied to all race-based classifications by the state, with this particular classification remanded for consideration in that light

Reasoning– All government racial classifications are subject to strict scrutiny, because there is a presumption they have a sinister purpose, or could have. Thus, the government must be pursuing a very important end to be permitted to discriminate, and it must actually achieve, or be critical to achieving, that end. Separate is, as a matter of law, not equal. At the same time, prison systems are a place where government power is at its apex, so their obligation to prove they had a prison safety interest in this policy is not completely fatal.