Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2015

OCLC FAST subject heading

Civil rights


The Supreme Court requires that equal protection plaintiffs prove defendants acted with discriminatory intent. The intent rule has insulated from judicial invalidation numerous policies that harmfully impact racial and ethnic minorities. Court doctrine also mandates that state actors generally remain colorblind. The colorblindness doctrine has led to the judicial invalidation of policies designed to ameliorate the conditions of racial inequality. Taken together, these two equality doctrines facilitate racial domination. The Court justifies this outcome on the ground that the Constitution does not protect “group rights.”

Constitutional law theorists have criticized these aspects of equal protection doctrine. Recently, however, some theorists have defended the Court’s discarding of group-based equal protection. They argue that social justice advocates should pursue redress for vulnerable groups by asserting dignity-based liberty claims under the Due Process Clause. In a widely cited article, Professor Kenji Yoshino argues, in fact, that dignity is the “New Equal Protection.” Applying insights from “social capital theory,” Yoshino contends that group-based equal protection causes “pluralism anxiety” — or a fear of “balkanization” among the justices. Dignity arguments, by contrast, do not present such concerns because they rest on appeals to universal justice.

This Article contests the view that the Court should discontinue class-based equal protection in order to maintain social cohesion. Leading social capital theorists find that multiculturalism, though temporarily divisive (if at all), provides many long-term benefits. Also, numerous social psychology studies find that racial and ethnic inequality cause far more social disruption than group-based identities. This empirical research also demonstrates that the Court’s equality doctrine mirrors the views regarding race relations held by most whites, while contradicting the perspectives of most persons of color. The enforcement of white majoritarian viewpoints should not serve as the foundation for an equality doctrine. Anti-subordination theory, by contrast, would provide more egalitarian outcomes and should inform Court doctrine.