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 ?
65) Yet, despite the Court's unwillingness to declare illegitimacy a suspect class, it nonetheless did--in cases decided both prior and subsequent to Mathews--declare unconstitutional on equal protection grounds laws that discriminated on the basis of illegitimacy.
Moreover, Plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged that such policy, practice and custom targets a suspect class and has no rational basis.
In the alternative, even if illegal aliens are part of "the people," the government can discriminate against them--by restricting their right to bear arms--on the ground that illegal aliens are not a suspect class under the Equal Protection Clause.
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Vermont's constitution is far less deferential to the legislature, and even where no fundamental right is at issue, and no suspect class affected, requires the court to scrutinize any disparate treatment.
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.
The drop into selling company will set the alarm bells ringing for some punters, as she has looked capable of making her presence felt in slightly stronger company than this, and the Americans might describe this as a suspect class drop - I see it as more of an opportunity to get a win into this filly at a realistic level
93) In later formulations, the term "discrete and insular minority" gave way to "suspect class," but the basic principle, repeated over and over, remained that strict scrutiny was justified only (apart from cases in which a fundamental right was implicated) when a law "operates to the peculiar disadvantage of a suspect class.
21) Moreover, several members of the current Court appear to believe that the Court erred to begin with in designating alienage as a suspect class.
If pov erty guarantees a suspect class eliciting the highest standard of scrutiny, and voting is considered a fundamental right, advocates inferred that material subsistence must be deemed fundamental.
But the court did not hold that homosexuals constitute a suspect class.