Equal Protection of the Laws Law and Legal Definition
Equal protection of the laws is provided in the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits states from denying any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. The laws of a state must treat an individual in the same manner as others in similar conditions and circumstances. It deals with preventing discrimination in application of the laws, rather than guaranteeing equality among individuals. It is an important civil rights law that forms the basis for many discrimination lawsuits.
Generally, the Supreme Court finds a state classification constitutional if it has "a rational basis" to support a "legitimate state purpose." The Supreme Court, however, has applied more stringent analysis in certain cases. It will "strictly scrutinize" a classification when it involves a "suspect classification" (race, national origin, or, in some situations, non U.S. citizenship). In order for a classification involving a suspect class to be found legal under this test, the state must prove that there is a compelling interest to the law and that the classification is necessary to further that interest. The Court will also apply a strict scrutiny test if the classification interferes with fundamental rights such as first amendment rights, the right to privacy, or the right to travel.