Strict Scrutiny

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Strict Scrutiny

A standard of Judicial Review for a challenged policy in which the court presumes the policy to be invalid unless the government can demonstrate a compelling interest to justify the policy.

The strict scrutiny standard of judicial review is based on the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Federal courts use strict scrutiny to determine whether certain types of government policies are constitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court has applied this standard to laws or policies that impinge on a right explicitly protected by the U.S. Constitution, such as the right to vote. The Court has also identified certain rights that it deems to be fundamental rights, even though they are not enumerated in the Constitution.

The strict scrutiny standard is one of three employed by the courts in reviewing laws and government policies. The rational basis test is the lowest form of judicial scrutiny. It is used in cases where a plaintiff alleges that the legislature has made an Arbitrary or irrational decision. When employed, the Rational Basis Test usually results in a court upholding the constitutionality of the law, because the test gives great deference to the legislative branch. The heightened scrutiny test is used in cases involving matters of discrimination based on sex. As articulated in Craig v. Boren, 429 U.S. 190, 97 S. Ct. 451, 50 L. Ed. 2d 397 (1976), "classifications by gender must serve important governmental objectives and must be substantially related to the achievement of those objectives."

Strict scrutiny is the most rigorous form of judicial review. The Supreme Court has identified the right to vote, the right to travel, and the right to privacy as fundamental rights worthy of protection by strict scrutiny. In addition, laws and policies that discriminate on the basis of race are categorized as suspect classifications that are presumptively impermissible and subject to strict scrutiny.

Once a court determines that strict scrutiny must be applied, it is presumed that the law or policy is unconstitutional. The government has 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.

The case of roe v. wade, 410 U.S. 113, 93 S. Ct. 705, 35 L. Ed. 2d 147 (1973), which invalidated state laws that prohibited Abortion, illustrates the application of strict scrutiny. The Court held that the right to privacy is a fundamental right and that this right "is broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy." Based on these grounds, the Court applied strict scrutiny. The state of Texas sought to proscribe all abortions and claimed a compelling State Interest in protecting unborn human life. Though the Court acknowledged that this was a legitimate interest, it held that the interest does not become compelling until that point in pregnancy when the fetus becomes "viable" (capable of "meaningful life outside the mother's womb"). The Court held that a state may prohibit abortion after the point of viability, except in cases where abortion is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother, but the Texas law was not narrowly tailored to achieve this objective. Therefore, the state did not meet its Burden of Proof and the law was held unconstitutional.


Civil Rights; Equal Protection; Sex Discrimination; Voting.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Proposal 5 would add this language to the Vermont Constitution: "That an individual's right to personal reproductive autonomy is central to the liberty and dignity to determine one's own life course and shall not be denied or infringed unless justified by a compelling state interest achieved by the least restrictive means."
RLUIPA prohibits land use regulations that impose a substantial burden on religious practice unless they are the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling government interest.
RLUIPA states that government shall not impose a substantial burden on an inmate's religious exercise, unless the burden furthers a compelling governmental interest, and does so by the least restrictive means.
As a general proposition, the requirement is fully constitutional (1) because it does not interfere in any way with the ability of a lawyer or law firm to advertise that it provides legal services, (2) the requirement provides additional information to the public, and (3) the requirement is substantially related to the advancement of an important governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of advancing that interest, Sedler wrote.
A federal district court ruled in their favor in 2009, finding that the government did not demonstrate that its total ban on importing and possessing Daime tea was the least restrictive means of advancing its interests--particularly in light of accommodations made for various Native American tribes' use of peyote.
Along with that argument, this Note points out the problem with the alternative least restrictive means that the Court relied on when it concluded that the HHS contraceptive mandate was not the least restrictive means to accomplish a compelling governmental interest.
The amicus brief released by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) cites the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), pointing to the penalties for refusing to sign an opt-out form as a substantial burden on the petitioners' religious freedom--"precisely the type of situation that RFRA is intended to address." However, RFRA stipulates that the government may still use the least restrictive means to enforce a law that furthers a compelling government interest.
The court will decide whether an accommodation under the Affordable Care Act contraceptive mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by forcing religious nonprofits to act in violation of their beliefs, when the government has not proved that this compulsion is the least restrictive means of advancing a compelling interest.
It said the biometrics requirement sought to accomplish the compelling state interest to ensure a clean, complete, permanent and updated voters' list, and that it was the least restrictive means to achieve such intent.
As for the absence of less restrictive means to achieve this interest, the Court noted that the regulation is the least restrictive means as it is a manner of updating registration for those already registered under RA 8189 through technology.
The church demands this extreme standard for laws that are not neutral or generally applicable, arguing that the government must prove it has a compelling interest and that the interest is served in the "least restrictive means" for this believer.

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