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.

City of Cleburne, Texas v. Cleburne Living Center, Inc. (1985)

Key Facts– Cleburne denied a permit for a group home for the mentally handicapped. The living center sued.

Issues– Is mental handicap a protected category of persons under Equal Protection? What standard of scrutiny is appropriate for laws affecting the mentally handicapped?

Holding– No. Here, the court applies a rational basis test.

Result– City decision overruled.

Reasoning– The mentally handicapped do not require treatment as a protected class, because they are actually qualitatively different from other people. Also, they vary widely in terms of the qualities that define them as handicapped. Finally, state treatment of the mentally handicapped is generally fairly positive.

However, in this case, the Court says the denial of permission to operate has no rational basis.