Equality and the United States Constitution


Equality and freedom are prominent features of any constitution. Of the two aspects, freedom emerged first in the United States. The Bill of Rights, whose bicentennial we now celebrate, “is mostly concerned with rights of liberty, not rights of equality” (Baldez, Epstein and Martin 2006, 245). The concept of equality became entangled in the principle of freedom. The fourteenth amendment sought to guarantee equal rights to all citizens regardless of their race, gender, or status. One may argue that the American constitution does not promote egalitarianism as it does not mention the term equality. Nevertheless, the idea of equality is core to the United States philosophy (Baldez, Epstein and Martin 2006, 247). Indeed, the Americans hardly remember that the term equality does not appear in the constitution.

The concept of constitutional equality took time to be effected. Overstated tolerance and dampening racism dictated the late 19th century and hampered the development of legal equality. The Supreme Court did little to intervene in cases that involved gender and racial discrimination. The idea of legal equality came after the Second World War (Baldez, Epstein and Martin 2006, 253). In the 1960s, the courts started to handle litigations that involved gender and racial dignity. Today, the facets of constitutional equality are extremely miscellaneous. The United States has amended the constitution to guarantee racial and gender equality. Nevertheless, the law does not give the federal government the power to advance equality. Instead, its mandate is to ensure that individual states do not come up with laws that discriminate against people based on race or gender. This paper will discuss the concept of race and gender equality under the United States Constitution.

Equality under the U.S. Constitution

The concept of gender and racial justice lies at the center of contemporary constitutional balance. However, legal equality is quite multidimensional. Some dimensions of legal equality focus on gender, status, race, participation, and economics among others. The majority of Americans argue that the Constitution is neutral with respect to gender and race (Christiano 2010, 42). Therefore, the law does not identify people based on gender or race. The objective of the law is to ensure that the government and public and private institutions treat all people equally.

Racial Equality

The 14th Amendment was aimed at ensuring that black Americans and other minority groups enjoyed equal protection under the law. Nevertheless, the amendment was not effective during the first half of the 20th century. The Supreme Court continued to pass judgments that denied the blacks equal treatment. For instance, in Plessy vs. Ferguson, the Supreme Court gave a judgment that perpetuated the notion of “separate but equal” treatment of citizens according to race (Christiano 2010, 47). Before and after the Supreme Court’s decision, racial discrimination was a deep-rooted fact of American life. The blacks never shared social facilities with the whites. Besides, the blacks lived in deplorable conditions. The Plessy case acted as an eye-opener to the Americans. It gave the Americans a chance to identify flaws in the constitution. The Americans started to advocate social transformation toward legal equality. Today, the United States Constitution advocates equality. The constitution stipulates that all races are equal before the law (Christiano 2010, 61). Besides, it does not allow states to limit the civil rights of individuals based on race.

Previously, minority groups and women were not allowed to take part in party primary elections. Moreover, blacks could not enroll in public law schools. Today, the constitution allows people of all races to partake in party primary elections. Besides, the blacks can enroll in public law schools of their choice. Indeed, the constitution has helped to overturn numerous racial segregation laws that touch on all dimensions of American life (Christiano 2010, 75). Presently, the constitution allows interracial marriages and prohibits racial classifications. All forms of racial classifications are considered unconstitutional if not vindicated with a persuasive public interest.

The 14th Amendment Clause

The 14th Amendment Clause bars states from denying citizens the right to equal protection under the constitution. Equality is a philosophical and legal concept that has numerous interpretations. The law demands that the Supreme Court interprets justice based on the prevailing circumstance. The primary motivation for the Equal Protection Clause was to authenticate the equality terms enshrined in the Civil Rights Act of 1866. According to the Civil Rights Act of 1866, all citizens were to share equal rights (Pawa 2003, 1031). Indeed, the 14th amendment marked a significant change in American constitutionalism. The bill imposed considerably more legal constraints against the states than it had imposed prior to the civil war.

The interpretation of the Equal Protection Clause has been a contentious issue for a long time. In fact, it has led to the formulation of the phrase “Equal Justice Under Law” (Baldez, Epstein and Martin 2006, 261). The clause requires the statutes of a state to treat all people equally. According to the 14th amendment, a state is said to contravene the law if it denies people the right to employment due to their gender or race. The Equal Protection Clause is not designed to guarantee equality among social circles or people, but only equal treatment before the law (Pawa 2003, 1041). The outcome of a law does not matter so long as it is applied indiscriminately. The clause promotes civil rights by denying states the power to classify people based on their race. The primary shortfall of the 14th Amendment is that it does not apply to the federal government. Therefore, it is difficult for the citizens to fight racial discrimination perpetrated by the federal government.

Brown v. Board of Education

Before the Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954, states had laws that allowed for the “establishment of separate public schools for black and white students” (Pawa 2003, 1055). The Supreme Court pronounced the laws unconstitutional and ordered their abolishment. The declaration marked the beginning of constitutional equality in the United States. Previously, the Supreme Court could tolerate state-sponsored segregation. For instance, in Plessy v. Ferguson case, the court upheld state laws that allowed racial discrimination in public facilities (Pawa 2003, 1074). Such state laws operated under the principle of “separate but equal” that allowed the development of different, but equal public facilities for varied races. During the Brown v. Board of Education case, the Supreme Court argued that the distinct educational facilities were intrinsically imbalanced. Consequently, the court declared the principle of “separate but equal” a contravention of the Equal Protection Clause enshrined in the United States Constitution. The ruling ushered in the era of social integration. The verdict did not only impact the education, but also the political climate in the region (Stepan 1999, 27). Racial segregation in elementary school was abolished. Besides, the desegregation process touched on administrators and teachers. The black teachers and administrators had an opportunity to teach white students. However, the Brown v. Board of Education verdict did not go unopposed. Some political leaders organized public demonstrations to oppose the decision. Numerous schools were closed instead of being desegregated (Stepan 1999, 29). However, the opposition did not stop the fight against racial and gender discrimination in the United States.

Gender Equality

Woman Suffrage

In 1919, the American Congress made constitutional amendments to accord women the right to vote. Realizing this objective was not an easy task. It entailed hard and extensive struggle. Women had to endure decades of dissents and shakeups. In the mid-19th century, “a group of women that advocated woman suffrage lobbied, lectured, wrote, and exercised civil disobedience” (Buechler 2000, 68). Their aim was to accomplish what a majority of Americans regarded as a drastic change of the constitution. The fight for women’s suffrage culminated in the 19th amendment to the United States Constitution. The amendment gave women the right to vote. By 1912, some states had already adopted women’s suffrage. The champions of woman suffrage continued to challenge statutes that gave men the exclusive right to participate in voting exercises. Today, the United States Constitution not only gives women the right to vote but also vie for elective positions (Buechler 2000, 87). Without woman suffrage, it would have been hard for women to express their opinion on political matters.

Reed v. Reed

Reed v. Reed case is considered the first ruling to uphold the spirit of the Equal Protection Clause. The Supreme Court ruled that men and women had equal rights under the 14th Amendment. For a long time, the Supreme Court had failed to discharge the provisions of the 14th Amendment that bar a state from denying people equal protection under the law. During the hearing process, the chief justice ruled that giving preferential treatment to people of either sex over the others so as to circumvent fair trials was against the spirit of the Equal Protection Clause (Buechler 2000, 101). The judges ruled that the Idaho laws contravened the constitution. The verdict brought to the end the era of subjective bigotry on the basis of gender. Reed v. Reed case had positive impacts on women’s rights in the United States. The case indicated that women could no longer be segregated capriciously (Buechler 2000, 104). Even though the case had an impact on the fight against women’s discrimination, it did not work to the expectations of some people. The case did not give statutes that segregate on the basis of gender the same level of inspection that is accorded to racial laws. Therefore, the Reed v. Reed case had a significant impact, but it did not meet all the prospects of the women rights activists.


Concept of Blind Justice

The idea of blind justice dictates that law enforcers ought to consider the legal features of a case to make a judgment. They are not supposed to consider the gender or race of the individuals involved in a case. Both the defendant and the victim are expected to be accorded fairness (David 2011, 72). Also, they are supposed to be guaranteed that their worries will be reasonably heard. However, a study shows that blind justice is a delusion. In most cases, the race or gender of the victim and defendant influences the judgment passed in a court of law. In the United States, the number of blacks who are sentenced to death is high compared to the whites. Also, inequality arises in the District Attorney’s bureau. In 2007, chief justice John Roberts stated that the only way to abolish racial segregation is to eliminate apartheid. In spite of the absolutism of this statement, a majority of judicial systems prefer handling racial matters on a case-by-case basis (David 2011, 76). Besides, the law is altered to satisfy the religious or political beliefs of the majority regardless of whether the alteration is constitutional. Consequently, it is hard for minority groups to get a fair trial.

Justice is not Blind Theory

The Lady Justice symbolizes the nature of justice in contemporary states. She reminds us that court rulings should be objective and void of favor and fear. However, this does not always happen. The justice is not blind theory holds that numerous factors influence a judicial process. The factors include gender, race, and wealth of the parties involved in litigation (David 2011, 79). A quick inspection of the American jails indicates that the people of color dominate a majority of the penitentiaries. It does not mean that most criminals hail from the black and Hispanic groups. The fact is that the country’s judicial system discriminates against the minority groups. One of the examples that demonstrate that justice is not blind is the war on drugs. The issue of drug abuse is ubiquitous on both African Americans and whites. However, a majority of the individuals convicted for drug abuse are African Americans. Some states have laws that exacerbate racial discrimination. For instance, the Stand Your Ground law allows whites to discriminate against African Americans (David 2011, 84). In Florida, blacks are killed and the perpetrators go unpunished due to hitches in the justice system.

Gender and Racial Disparities in Incarceration and Punishment

The research shows that there are remarkable gender and racial disparities in incarceration and punishment in the United States. The study shows an inconsistent trend in ethnically biased sentencing outcomes in the United States. According to data from the Supreme Court, a majority of Latino and black males are susceptible to callous sentencing relative to other offender populations (Stepan 1999, 34). Besides, the Latino and black plaintiffs are discriminated against when it comes to legal proceedings. In most cases, the judges decline to reduce their sentences. Whenever blacks are arrested for harming whites, they are slapped with severe penalties. On the other hand, when whites hurt their fellows or the blacks, the judges do not punish them harshly (Viteritti 1999, 112). In the case of murder, if the perpetrator is black the probability of them receiving a death sentence is high. The same does not always happen to white offenders. There is a significant disparity in the average duration of a sentence between different races and gender. The blacks receive the longest average duration. On average, blacks are jailed for 64.1 months. On the other hand, the whites are imprisoned for an average of 32.1 months. The disparity between the duration that males and females spend in prison is even more pronounced. Men spend an average of 51.5 months in jail while women spend 18.5 months (Viteritti 1999, 118). The disparity in incarceration and punishment pattern indicates that there is a weakness in the American judicial system.

The legality of Affirmative Action

In the United States, people use affirmative action to fight injustices meted on minority groups and women. The crimes may occur in the spheres of employment, education, and other social services. Research indicates that women and minorities face segregation in businesses and schools (Murrell et al. 2011, 74). Therefore, affirmative action aims at addressing these challenges. Challengers of affirmative action term it as a reverse discrimination strategy devised by minorities and women. The United States Constitution contains numerous overlapping laws that govern affirmative action. Employers and schools are supposed to use affirmative action to recruit staff and students respectively. Private institutions that do not receive government support are not obliged to apply affirmative action (Murrell et al. 2011, 79). Therefore, minorities and women are not protected against discrimination in such institutions. The American Constitution requires federal contractors and subcontractors to respect the rights of minorities and women. The law allows affirmative action like outreach efforts and training programs aimed at enhancing the capacity of women and minorities.

Today, the United States has a panoply of statutes and regulations aimed at curbing discrimination against women and minorities. The United States Constitution acknowledges the laws. Since the onset of affirmative action, different states have come up with laws aimed at supporting its implementation (Murrell et al. 2011, 81). However, the fight for recognition of affirmative action has come across a stiff challenge from the whites. The anti-affirmative action group argues that recognizing affirmative action amounts to discriminating against whites. Over the years, the Supreme Court has ruled numerous cases in favor of affirmative action, thus upholding its legality.



The United States Constitution guarantees equal rights for all citizens regardless of their race, gender, and social circle among others. Over the years, Americans have amended the constitution in a bid to promote equality. For instance, the 14th Amendment was aimed at ensuring that minorities and women are protected under the law. No state is allowed to profile its people based on race or gender. The judgment of Brown v. Board of Education signified the end of racial segregation in social facilities. The Supreme Court claimed that the principle of “separate but equal” encouraged racial discrimination. The court ruled that all students had the right to enroll in any school regardless of their race. The desire for women to participate in political affairs led to women’s suffrage. Eventually, some laws were enacted that gave women the right to vote. The ruling of the Reed v. Reed case marked the end of women’s discrimination in the United States.

The concept of justice is blind maintains that all people are equal before the law. Therefore, people should be accorded a fair trial regardless of gender or race. However, in reality, justice is not always blind. Gender and racial factors influence a majority of court rulings in the United States. There are apparent gender and racial disparities in incarceration and punishment. Most judges pass harsh penalties on black offenders. In the case of murder, a black offender has a higher chance of receiving a death sentence than a white perpetrator. The gender and racial disparities are what led to the establishment of affirmative action. Affirmative action ensures that people are treated equally.

Reference List

Baldez, Lisa, Lee Epstein, and Andrew D. Martin. 2006. “Does the U.S. Constitution Need an Equal Rights Amendment?” The Journal of Legal Studies 35, no. 1: 243-283.

Buechler, Steven. 2000. Women’s Movement in the United States: Woman Suffrage, Equal Rights, and Beyond. New York: Rutgers University Press.

Christiano, Thomas. 2010. The Constitution of Equality: Democratic Authority and Its Limits. New York: Oxford University Press.

David, Ritchie. 2011. “Justice is Blind: A Model for Analyzing Metaphor Transformations and Narratives in Actual Discourse.” Metaphor and the Social World 1, no. 1: 70-89.

Murrell, Audrey, Beth L. Dietz-Uhler, John F. Davidio, Samuel L. Gaertner, and Cheryl Dout. 2011. “Aversive Racism and Resistance to Affirmative Action: Perception of Justice are Not Necessarily Color Blind.” Basic and Applied Social Psychology 15, no. 2: 71-86.

Pawa, Matt. 2003. “When the Supreme Court Restricts Constitutional Rights, Can Congress Save Us? An Examination of Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment.” University of Pennsylvania Law Review 141, no. 3: 1029-1101.

Stepan, Alfred. 1999. “Federalism and Democracy: Beyond the U.S. Model.” Journal of Democracy 10, no. 4: 19-34.

Viteritti, Joseph. 1999. Choosing Equality: School Choice, the Constitution, and Civil Society. New York: The Brookings Institution.