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equal protection of the laws

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Definition of equal protection of the laws

A phrase in the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution requiring that states guarantee the same rights, privileges, and protections to all citizens. This doctrine reinforces that of due process of law and prevents states from passing or enforcing laws that arbitrarily discriminate against anyone.

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The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

MORE ABOUT EQUAL PROTECTION OF THE LAWS

What does equal protection of the laws mean?

Equal protection of the laws is a phrase in the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This statement essentially declares that no state shall pass any law that unfairly discriminates against anyone.

Equal protection of the laws occurs within the following text:

“No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The phrase equal protections of the law, commonly referred to as the Equal Protection Clause, proclaims that no state government can pass laws that unfairly discriminate against anyone for any reason. There are two important limitations to equal protection of the laws. First, it only applies to legislation at the state level. Second, it grants protection only from the government and form not private organizations, such as businesses or private schools.

Why is equal protection of the laws important?

Equal protection of the laws, like the rest of the Fourteenth Amendment, was intended to ensure freed slaves had all the same rights as other Americans. However, several states would manage to work around it for decades after it was passed.

Many state legislatures, especially those in the South, found ways to pass racially discriminatory laws that weren’t technically illegal. An especially infamous example of this was in the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court case. The court decided that having facilities and services that were “separate but equal” was found to be constitutional. Because of this, racial segregation was legal until the Supreme Court reverse its stance on “separate but equal” and outlawed racially segregated facilities nationwide in the 1952 case Brown v. Board of Education.

Exactly when and where equal protection of the laws is applicable is still a major point of discussion in many court cases. To name one modern example, several laws in the 2010s demanding that transgender persons use the restroom corresponding with their biological sex at birth were struck down according to equal protection of the laws.

Did you know … ?

Equal protection of the laws even had a hand in deciding a presidential election. In the 2000 Supreme Court case of Bush v. Gore, the Court ruled that Florida’s voting recount process had violated the Equal Protection Clause. Because Florida could not pass a new voting recount law in time, the original voter tally had to be accepted. George W. Bush won Florida and the election, in an incredibly close race, as a result.

What are real-life examples of equal protection of the laws?

This video gives a more thorough explanation of how equal protection of the laws is actually enforced in the courts and how it has changed over time:

Equal protection of the laws has been a point of judicial debate ever since its adoption and even more so today:

 

What other words are related to equal protection of the laws?

Quiz yourself!

Equal protection of the laws protects American citizens against discrimination from what?

A. federal laws
B. county laws
C. state laws
D. international laws

How to use equal protection of the laws in a sentence

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