Equal Protection Clause

Racial and ethnic classifications . . . are subject to stringent examination without regard to . . . additional characteristics. We declared as much in the first cases explicitly to recognize racial distinctions as suspect: “. . . [A]ll legal restrictions which curtail the rights of a single racial group are imme- diately suspect. That is not to say that all such restrictions are unconstitu- tional. It is to say that courts must subject them to the most rigid scrutiny”. The Court has never questioned the validity of those pronouncements. . . .

Petitioner urges us to adopt for the first time a more restrictive view of the Equal Protection Clause and hold that discrimination against members of the white “majority” cannot be suspect if its purpose can be characterized as “benign.” The clock of our liberties, however, cannot be turned back to 1868. It is far too late to argue that the guarantee of equal protection to all persons permits the recognition of special wards entitled to a degree of protection greater than that accorded others.

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Moreover, there are serious problems of justice connected with the idea of preference itself. First, it may not always be clear that a so-called prefer- ence is in fact benign. Courts may be asked to validate burdens imposed upon individual members of particular groups in order to advance the group’s general interest. . . . Nothing in the Constitution supports the no- tion that individuals may be asked to suffer otherwise impermissible bur- dens in order to enhance the societal standing of their ethnic groups. Second, preferential programs may only reinforce common stereotypes holding that certain groups are unable to achieve success without special protection based on a factor having no relationship to individual worth. . . . Third, there is a measure of inequity in forcing innocent persons in respon- dent’s position to bear the burdens of redressing grievances not of their making.


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