Strict Scrutiny Law & Legal Definition

Strict scrutiny is one level of analysis used by the courts to determine the constitutionality of the actions of other governmental bodies. They may determine whether an act by the President, Congress, a national, state, or local administrative official, a state legislature, a local governing board, or a lower court is valid. It is a level of scrutiny applied to classifications that are alleged to violate constitutional rights to equal protection of the laws.

The strict scrutiny standard is the most thorough analysis. The purpose, objective, or interest being pursued by the government must be "compelling". Also, the means to achieve the purpose, objective, or interest is reviewed to determine if it is "narrowly tailored" to the accomplishment of the governmental purpose, objective, or interest. There must not be any less restrictive means that would accomplish the government’s objective just as well.

Strict scrutiny is applied in cases where there is a real and appreciable impact on, or a significant interference with the exercise of a fundamental right. The language of the court's opinion indicates the level of scrutiny applied. If the analysis discusses a compelling interest that is narrowly tailored to acheive its goals, it is a strict scrutiny analysis. Strict scrutiny is at the opposite end of the spectrum for the rational basis test used. Under the rational basis standard, the court determines whether there is any rational justification for the classifications created by a challenged rule, which must further a “legitimate governmental interest". Under intermediate scrutiny, the government must show that the challenged classification serves an important state interest and that the classification is at least substantially related to serving that interest.