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.


Equal Protection; Japanese American Evacuation Cases.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Orientation, Suspect Classification, and the Courts III.
give rise to a suspect classification. (123) Further, in recent years,
It was the first and last time that the Court addressed a claim involving discrimination against "hippies" and "hippie communes." The Court did not go on to subsequently hold that "hippies" are a suspect class (or, in post-Adarand lingo, that "hippiness" or "hippie orientation" is a suspect classification).
(48) If a law does not involve suspect classification or fundamental rights it is examined under the rational basis standard, which "requires only that the classification reasonably further a legitimate governmental purpose[.]" (49) Under this standard, the government need only establish that the law is "rationally related to a legitimate governmental interest or purpose." (50) Essentially, unless the different treatment of various groups is thoroughly unrelated to achievement of a legitimate purpose, the law will survive challenge under the equal protection clause.
Supreme Court does not regard sex as a "suspect classification," unlike race or religion, and consequently does not apply the highest standard of "strict scrutiny" in evaluating claims of sex discrimination.
648, 651 (1992) (indicating religion constitutes suspect classification subject to strict scrutiny).
In reviewing statutes that burden a fundamental right or discriminate on the basis of a suspect classification, courts use the strict scrutiny standard of judicial review, (l) Within the confines of the Massachusetts Constitution, suspect classifications are subject to strict scrutiny, and include classifications based on sex, race, color, creed and national origin.
Though this legislation is limited in scope, Congressional intention to expand the list of protected classes through legislation should be considered favorably by the Court when they are asked to view sexual orientation as a suspect classification. The Court should consider the interplay between the judiciary and the legislature and examine legislative patterns when addressing this question.
This Article breaks new ground by proposing a new equal protection doctrine that takes cognizance of the realities of sex, and regards sex categories as a suspect classification, not based on immutability, but on ground of sex categories' very imprecision.
It is possible to expand the suspect classification. The challenge when doing this is to maintain high diagnosis resolution.
But unlike Loving, by which time race had already been established as a suspect classification, the Supreme Court has not previously considered whether gay people are a suspect class.
The Court's clearest statement on the specific question of socioeconomic class and suspect classification was articulated in San Antonio Independent School District v.