Suspect Classification


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Suspect Classification

A presumptively unconstitutional distinction made between individuals on the basis of race, national origin, alienage, or religious affiliation, in a statute, ordinance, regulation, or policy.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that certain kinds of government discrimination are inherently suspect and must be subjected to strict judicial scrutiny. The suspect classification doctrine has its constitutional basis in the Fifth Amendment and the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and it applies to actions taken by federal and state governments. When a suspect classification is at issue, the government has the burden of proving that the challenged policy is constitutional.

The concept of suspect classifications was first discussed by the Supreme Court in korematsu v. united states, 323 U.S. 214, 65 S. Ct. 193, 89 L. Ed. 194 (1944). The Court upheld the "relocation" of Japanese Americans living on the West Coast during World War II, yet Justice hugo l. black, in his majority opinion, stated that

all legal restrictions which curtail the Civil Rights of a single group are immediately suspect. That is not to say that all such restrictions are unconstitutional. It is to say that courts must subject them to the most rigid scrutiny. Pressing public necessity may sometimes justify the existence of such restrictions; racial antagonism never can.

Though it is now widely recognized that no compelling justification existed for the relocation order and that racial prejudice rather than national security led to the forced removal of Japanese Americans, Korematsu did signal the Court's willingness to apply the Equal Protection Clause to suspect classifications.

Strict Scrutiny of a suspect classification reverses the ordinary presumption of constitutionality, with the government carrying the burden of proving that its challenged policy is constitutional. To withstand strict scrutiny, the government must show that its policy is necessary to achieve a compelling state interest. If this is proved, the state must then demonstrate that the legislation is narrowly tailored to achieve the intended result. Although strict scrutiny is not a precise test, it is far more stringent than the traditional Rational Basis Test, which only requires the government to offer a reasonable ground for the legislation.

Race is the clearest example of a suspect classification. For example, the Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 87 S. Ct. 1817, 198 L. Ed. 2d 1010 (1967), scrutinized a Virginia statute that prohibited interracial marriages. The Court noted that race was the basis for the classification and that it was, therefore, suspect. The Court struck down the law because Virginia failed to prove a compelling State Interest in preventing interracial marriages. Legislation discriminating on the basis of religion or ethnicity, as well as those statutes that affect fundamental rights, also are inherently suspect. The Supreme Court has not recognized age and gender as suspect classifications, though some lower courts treat gender as a suspect or quasi-suspect classification.

Cross-references

Equal Protection; Japanese American Evacuation Cases.

References in periodicals archive ?
In Oregon, sex has been a suspect classification since the 1984 state Supreme Court decision in Hewitt vs.
This brief put the entire issue of suspect classifications to the side, since homosexuals need not be a suspect classification to warrant the basic protection Equal Protection requires.
When those affected are poor, however, the Court has circumvented these questions, never directly or adequately determining whether poor people meet the criteria for a suspect class or whether poverty meets the criteria for a suspect classification.
We believe that gays and lesbians, like all minorities who are victims of prejudice, bias, and discrimination, must be afforded suspect classification and that the Court must apply strict scrutiny in determining the extent to which California's ban on same-sex marriage violates the rights of gays and lesbian to equal protection under the law.
Richards then presents an argument for considering sexual orientation a suspect classification and considers the implications of the current juridical landscape for legal recognition of same-sex marriage.
Although the Goodridge court decided the case under the Massachusetts Constitution, the reasoning invoked under that document parallels that of its federal counterpart: Each jurisprudence applies heightened scrutiny to statutes that draw a suspect classification or implicate a fundamental right and applies rational basis review to all other statutes.
This inaccurate statement was most likely intended to divert attention from the biggest logical flaw of the opinion, namely the Court's failure to explain why alienage is a suspect classification when employed by a state, but not when employed by the federal government.
It does not implicate either a fundamental right or a suspect classification.
Region is not a racial or other suspect classification.
As interpreted by the Texas Supreme Court, the state's ERA elevated sex to a suspect classification subject to strict judicial scrutiny.
determination would receive suspect classification.
The Supreme Court found no federal equal protection violation because the Court was not willing to include wealth as a suspect classification or to say that education was a fundamental interest.