Sex.—Shortly after ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, the refusal of Illinois to license a woman to practice law was challenged before the Supreme Court, and the Court rejected the challenge in tones which prevailed well into the twentieth century. "The civil law, as well as nature itself, has always recognized a wide difference in the respective spheres and destinies of man and woman. Man is, or should be, woman's protector and defender. The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life. The constitution of the family organization, which is founded in the divine ordinance, as well as in the nature of things, indicates the domestic sphere as that which properly belongs to the domain and functions of womanhood."1699 On the same premise, a statute restricting the franchise to men was sustained.1700
1699 Bradwell v. Illinois, 83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 130, 141 (1873). The cases involving alleged discrimination against women contain large numbers of quaint quotations from unlikely sources. Upholding a law which imposed a fee upon all persons engaged in the laundry business, but excepting businesses employing not more than two women, Justice Holmes said: "If Montana deems it advisable to put a lighter burden upon women than upon men with regard to an employment that our people commonly regard as more appropriate for the former, the Fourteenth Amendment does not interfere by creating a fictitious equality where there is a real difference." Quong Wing v. Kirkendall, 223 U.S. 59, 63 (1912). And upholding a law prohibiting most women from tending bar, Justice Frankfurter said: "The fact that women may now have achieved the virtues that men have long claimed as their prerogatives and now indulge in vices that men have long practiced, does not preclude the States from drawing a sharp line between the sexes, certainly in such matters as the regulation of the liquor traffic… The Constitution does not require legislatures to reflect sociological insight, or shifting social standards, any more than it requires them to keep abreast of the latest scientific standards." Goesaert v. Cleary, 335 U.S. 464, 466 (1948).
1700 Minor v. Happersett, 88 U.S. (21 Wall.) 162 (1875) (privileges and immunities).
The greater number of cases have involved legislation aimed to protect women from oppressive working conditions, as by prescribing maximum hours1701 or minimum wages1702 or by restricting some of the things women could be required to do.1703 A 1961 decision upheld a state law which required jury service of men but which gave women the option of serving or not. "We cannot say that it is constitutionally impermissible for a State acting in pursuit of the general welfare, to conclude that a woman should be relieved from the civic duty of jury service unless she herself determines that such service is consistent with her own special responsibilities."1704 Another type of protective legislation for women that was sustained by the Court is that premised on protection of morals, as by forbidding the sale of liquor to women.1705 In a highly controversial ruling, the Court sustained a state law which forbade the licensing of any female bartender, except for the wives or daughters of male owners. The Court purported to view the law as one for the protection of the health and morals of women generally, with the exception being justified by the consideration that such women would be under the eyes of a protective male.1706
1701 Muller v. Oregon, 208 U.S. 412 (1908); Dominion Hotel v. Arizona, 249 U.S.
1702 West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish, 300 U.S. 379 (1937).
1703 E.g., Radice v. New York, 264 U.S. 292 (1924) (prohibiting night work by women in restaurants). A similar restriction set a maximum weight that women could be required to lift.
1704 Hoyt v. Florida, 368 U.S. 57, 62 (1961).
1705 Cronin v. Adams, 192 U.S. 108 (1904).
1706 Goesaert v. Cleary, 335 U.S. 464 (1948).
A wide variety of sex discrimination by governmental and private parties, including sex discrimination in employment and even the protective labor legislation previously sustained, is now proscribed by federal law. In addition, federal law requires equal pay for equal work.1707 Some states have followed suit.1708 While the proposed Equal Rights Amendment pended before the States and ultimately failed of ratification,1709 the Supreme Court undertook a major evaluation of sex classification doctrine, first applying a "heightened" traditional standard of review (with bite) to void a discrimination and then, after coming within a vote of making sex a suspect classification, settling upon an intermediate standard. These standards continue, with some uncertainties of application and some tendencies among the Justices both to lessen and to increase the burden of governmental justification, to provide the analysis for evaluation of sex classifications.
In Reed v. Reed,1710 the Court held invalid a state probate law which gave males preference over females when both were equally entitled to administer an estate. Because the statute "provides that different treatment be accorded to the applicants on the basis of their sex," Chief Justice Burger wrote, "it thus establishes a classification subject to scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause." The Court proceeded to hold that under traditional equal protection standards—requiring a classification to be reasonable and not arbitrarily related to a lawful objective—the classification made was an arbitrary way to achieve the objective the State advanced in defense of the law, that is, to reduce the area of controversy between otherwise equally qualified applicants for administration. Thus, the Court used traditional analysis but the holding seems to go somewhat further to say that not all lawful interests of a State may be advanced by a classification based solely on sex.1711
1707 Thus, title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 80 Stat. 662, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., bans discrimination against either sex in employment. See, e.g., Phillips v. Martin-Marietta Corp., 400 U.S. 542 (1971); Dothard v. Rawlinson, 433 U.S. 321 (1977); Los Angeles Dep't of Water & Power v. Manhart, 435 U.S. 702 (1978); Arizona Governing Comm. for Tax Deferred Plans v. Norris, 463 U.S. 1073 (1983) (actuarially based lower monthly retirement benefits for women employees violates Title VII); Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57 (1986) ("hostile environment" sex harassment claim is actionable). Reversing rulings that pregnancy discrimination is not reached by the statutory bar on sex discrimination, General Electric Co. v. Gilbert, 429 U.S. 125 (1976); Nashville Gas Co. v. Satty, 434 U.S. 136 (1977), Congress enacted the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Pub. L. 95-555 (1978), 92 Stat. 2076, amending 42 U.S.C. § 2000e. The Equal Pay Act, 77 Stat. 56 (1963), amending the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d), generally applies to wages paid for work requiring "equal skill, effort, and responsibility." See Corning Glass Works v. Brennan, 417 U.S. 188 (1974). On the controversial issue of "comparable worth" and the interrelationship of title VII and the Equal Pay Act, see County of Washington v. Gunther, 452 U.S. 161 (1981).
1708 See, e.g., Roberts v. United States Jaycees, 468 U.S. 609 (1984) (state prohibition on gender discrimination in aspects of public accommodation, as applied to membership in a civic organization, is justified by compelling state interest).
1709 On the Equal Rights Amendment, see discussion of "Ratification," supra.
1710 404 U.S. 71 (1971).
1711 404 U.S. at 75-77. Cf. Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S. 438, 447 n.7 (1972). A statute similar to that in Reed was before the Court in Kirchberg v. Feenstra, 450 U.S. 455 (1981) (invalidating statute giving husband unilateral right to dispose of jointly owned community property without wife's consent).
It is now established that sex classifications, in order to withstand equal protection scrutiny, "must serve important governmental objectives and must be substantially related to achievement of those objectives."1712 Thus, after several years in which sex distinctions were more often voided than sustained without a clear statement of the standard of review,1713 a majority of the Court has arrived at the intermediate standard which many had thought it was applying in any event.1714 The Court first examines the statutory or administrative scheme to determine if the purpose or objective is permissible and, if it is, whether it is important. Then, having ascertained the actual motivation of the classification, the Court engages in a balancing test to determine how well the classification serves the end and whether a less discriminatory one would serve that end without substantial loss to the government.1715
1712 Craig v. Boren, 429 U.S. 190, 197 (1976); Califano v. Goldfarb, 430 U.S. 199, 210-11 (1977) (plurality opinion); Califano v. Webster, 430 U.S. 313, 316-317 (1977); Orr v. Orr, 440 U.S. 268, 279 (1979); Caban v. Mohammed, 441 U.S. 380, 388 (1979); Massachusetts Personnel Adm'r v. Feeney, 442 U.S. 256, 273 (1979); Califano v. Westcott, 443 U.S. 76, 85 (1979); Wengler v. Druggists Mutual Ins. Co., 446 U.S. 142, 150 (1980); Kirchberg v. Feenstra, 450 U.S. 455, 461 (1981); Mississippi Univ. for Women v. Hogan, 458 U.S. 718, 723-24 (1982). But see Michael M. v. Superior Court, 450 U.S. 464, 468-69 (1981) (plurality opinion); id. at 483 (Justice Blackmun concurring); Rostker v. Goldberg, 453 U.S. 57, 69-72 (1981). The test is the same whether women or men are disadvantaged by the classification, Orr v. Orr, 440 U.S. at 279; Caban v. Mohammed, 441 U.S. at 394; Mississippi Univ. for Women v. Hogan, 458 U.S. at 724, although Justice Rehnquist and Chief Justice Burger strongly argued that when males are disadvantaged only the rational basis test is appropriate. Craig v. Boren, 429 U.S. at 217, 218-21; Califano v. Goldfarb, 430 U.S. at 224. That adoption of a standard has not eliminated difficulty in deciding such cases should be evident by perusal of the cases following.
1713 In Frontiero v. Richardson, 411 U.S. 677 (1973), four Justices were prepared to hold that sex classifications are inherently suspect and must therefore be subjected to strict scrutiny. Id. at 684-87 (Justices Brennan, Douglas, White, and Marshall). Three Justices, reaching the same result, thought the statute failed the traditional test and declined for the moment to consider whether sex was a suspect classification, finding that inappropriate while the Equal Rights Amendment was pending. Id. at 691 (Justices Powell and Blackmun and Chief Justice Burger). Justice Stewart found the statute void under traditional scrutiny and Justice Rehnquist dissented. Id. at 691. In Mississippi Univ. for Women v. Hogan, 458 U.S. 718, 724 n.9 (1982), Justice O'Connor for the Court expressly reserved decision whether a classification that survived intermediate scrutiny would be subject to strict scrutiny.
1714 While their concurrences in Craig v. Boren, 429 U.S. 190, 210, 211 (1976), indicate some reticence about express reliance on intermediate scrutiny, Justices Powell and Stevens have since joined or written opinions stating the test and applying it. E.g., Caban v. Mohammed, 441 U.S. 380, 388 (1979) (Justice Powell writing the opinion of the Court); Parham v. Hughes, 441 U.S. 347, 359 (1979) (Justice Powell concurring); Califano v. Goldfarb, 430 U.S. 199, 217 (1977) (Justice Stevens concurring); Caban v. Mohammed, 441 U.S. at 401 (Justice Stevens dissenting). Chief Justice Burger and Justice Rehnquist have not clearly stated a test, although their deference to legislative judgment approaches the traditional scrutiny test. But see Califano v. Westcott, 443 U.S. at 93 (joining Court on substantive decision). And cf. Mississippi Univ. for Women v. Hogan, 458 U.S. 718, 734-35 (1982) (Justice Blackmun dissenting).
1715 The test is thus the same as is applied to illegitimacy classifications, although with apparently more rigor when sex is involved.
Some sex distinctions were seen to be based solely upon "old notions," no longer valid if ever they were, about the respective roles of the sexes in society, and those distinctions failed to survive even traditional scrutiny. Thus, a state law defining the age of majority as 18 for females and 21 for males, entitling the male child to support by his divorced father for three years longer than the female child, was deemed merely irrational, grounded as it was in the assumption of the male as the breadwinner, needing longer to prepare, and the female as suited for wife and mother.1716 Similarly, a state jury system that in effect excluded almost all women was deemed to be based upon an overbroad generalization about the role of women as a class in society, and the administrative convenience served could not justify it.1717
Even when the negative "stereotype" which is evoked is that of a stereotypical male, the Court has evaluated this as potential gender discrimination. In J. E. B. v. Alabama ex rel. T. B.,1718 the Court addressed a paternity suit where men had been intentionally excluded from a jury through peremptory strikes. The Court rejected as unfounded the argument that men, as a class, would be more sympathetic to the defendant, the putative father. The Court also determined that gender-based exclusion of jurors would undermine the litigants' interest by tainting the proceedings, and in addition would harm the wrongfully excluded juror.
1716 Stanton v. Stanton, 421 U.S. 7 (1975). See also Stanton v. Stanton, 429 U.S. 501 (1977). Assumptions about the traditional roles of the sexes afford no basis for support of classifications under the intermediate scrutiny standard. E.g., Orr v. Orr, 440 U.S. 268, 279-80 (1979); Parham v. Hughes, 441 U.S. 347, 355 (1979); Kirchberg v. Feenstra, 450 U.S. 455 (1981). Justice Stevens in particular has been concerned whether legislative classifications by sex simply reflect traditional ways of thinking or are the result of a reasoned attempt to reach some neutral goal, e.g., Califano v. Goldfarb, 430 U.S. 199, 222-23 (1978) (concurring), and he will sustain some otherwise impermissible distinctions if he finds the legislative reasoning to approximate the latter approach. Caban v. Mohammed, 441 U.S. 380, 401 (1979) (dissenting).
1717 Taylor v. Louisiana, 419 U.S. 522 (1975). The precise basis of the decision was the Sixth Amendment right to a representative cross section of the community, but the Court dealt with and disapproved the reasoning in Hoyt v. Florida, 368 U.S. 57 (1961), in which a similar jury selection process was upheld against due process and equal protection challenge.
1718 511 U.S. 127 (1994).
Assumptions about the relative positions of the sexes, however, are not without some basis in fact, and sex may sometimes be a reliable proxy for the characteristic, such as need, with which it is the legislature's actual intention to deal. But heightened scrutiny requires evidence of the existence of the distinguishing fact and its close correspondence with the condition for which sex stands as proxy. Thus, in the case which first expressly announced the intermediate scrutiny standard, the Court struck down a state statute that prohibited the sale of "non-intoxicating" 3.2 beer to males under 21 and to females under 18.1719 Accepting the argument that traffic safety was an important governmental objective, the Court emphasized that sex is an often inaccurate proxy for other, more germane classifications. Taking the statistics offered by the State as of value, while cautioning that statistical analysis is a "dubious" business that is in tension with the "normative philosophy that underlies the Equal Protection Clause," the Court thought the correlation between males and females arrested for drunk driving showed an unduly tenuous fit to allow the use of sex as a distinction.1720
Invalidating an Alabama law imposing alimony obligations upon males but not upon females, the Court acknowledged that assisting needy spouses was a legitimate and important governmental objective and would then have turned to ascertaining whether sex was a sufficiently accurate proxy for dependency, so it could be said that the classification was substantially related to achievement of the objective.1721 However, the Court observed that the State already conducted individualized hearings with respect to the need of the wife, so that with little additional burden needy males could be identified and helped. The use of the sex standard as a proxy, therefore, was not justified because it needlessly burdened needy men and advantaged financially secure women whose husbands were in need.1722
1719 Craig v. Boren, 429 U.S. 190 (1976).
1720 429 U.S. at 198, 199-200, 201-04.
1721 Orr v. Orr, 440 U.S. 268 (1979).
1722 440 U.S. at 280-83. An administrative convenience justification was not available, therefore. Id. at 281 & n.12. While such an argument has been accepted as a sufficient justification in at least some illegitimacy cases, Mathews v. Lucas, 427 U.S. 495, 509 (1976), it has neither wholly been ruled out nor accepted in sex cases. In Lucas, 427 U.S. at 509-10, the Court interpreted Frontiero v. Richardson, 411 U.S. 677 (1973), as having required a showing at least that for every dollar lost to a recipient not meeting the general purpose qualification a dollar is saved in administrative expense. In Wengler v. Druggists Mutual Ins. Co., 446 U.S. 142, 152 (1980), the Court said that "[i]t may be that there are levels of administrative convenience that will justify discriminations that are subject to heightened scrutiny . . . , but the requisite showing has not been made here by the mere claim that it would be inconvenient to individualize determinations about widows as well as widowers." Justice Stevens apparently would demand a factual showing of substantial savings. Califano v. Goldfarb, 430 U.S. 199, 219 (1977) (concurring).
Various forms of discrimination between unwed mothers and unwed fathers received different treatment based on the Court's perception of the justifications and presumptions underlying each. A New York law permitted the unwed mother but not the unwed father of an illegitimate child to block his adoption by withholding consent. Acting in the instance of one who acknowledged his parenthood and who had maintained a close relationship with his child over the years, the Court could discern no substantial relationship between the classification and some important state interest. Promotion of adoption of illegitimates and their consequent legitimation was important, but the assumption that all unwed fathers either stood in a different relationship to their children than did the unwed mother or that the difficulty of finding the fathers would unreasonably burden the adoption process was overbroad, as the facts of the case revealed. No barrier existed to the State dispensing with consent when the father or his location is unknown, but disqualification of all unwed fathers may not be used as a shorthand for that step.1723
On the other hand, the Court sustained a Georgia statute which permitted the mother of an illegitimate child to sue for the wrongful death of the child but which allowed the father to sue only if he had legitimated the child and there is no mother.1724 Similarly, the Court let stand, under the Fifth Amendment, a federal statute which required that in order for an illegitimate child born overseas to gain citizenship, a citizen father, unlike a citizen mother, must acknowledge or legitimate the child before the child's 18th birthday.1725 The Court emphasized the ready availability of proof of a child's maternity as opposed to paternity, but the dissent questioned whether such a distinction was truly justified under strict scrutiny considering the ability of modern techniques of DNA paternity testing to settle concerns about legitimacy.
1723 Caban v. Mohammed, 441 U.S. 380 (1979). Four Justices dissented. Id. at 394 (Justice Stewart), 401 (Justices Stevens and Rehnquist and Chief Justice Burger). For the conceptually different problem of classification between different groups of women on the basis of marriage or absence of marriage to a wage earner, see Califano v. Boles, 443 U.S. 282 (1979).
1724 Parham v. Hughes, 441 U.S. 347, 361 (1979). There was no opinion of the Court, but both opinions making up the result emphasized that the objective of the State, the avoidance of difficulties in proving paternity, was an important one which was advanced by the classification. The plurality opinion determined that the statute did not invidiously discriminate against men as a class; it was no overbroad generalization but proceeded from the fact that only men could legitimate children by unilateral action. The sexes were not similarly situated, therefore, and the classification recognized that. As a result, all that was required was that the means be a rational way of dealing with the problem of proving paternity. Id. at 353-58. Justice Powell found the statute valid because the sex-based classification was substantially related to the objective of avoiding problems of proof in proving paternity. He also emphasized that the father had it within his power to remove the bar by legitimating the child. Id. at 359. Justices White, Brennan, Marshall, and Black-mun, who had been in the majority in Caban, dissented.
1725 Nguyen v. INS, 533 U.S. 53 (2001). See also Miller v. Albright, 523 U.S. 420 (1998) (opinion by Justice Stevens, joined by Justice Rehnquist) (equal protection not violated where paternity of a child of a citizen mother is established at birth, but child of citizen father must establish paternity by age 18).
As in the instance of illegitimacy classifications, the issue of sex qualifications for the receipt of governmental financial benefits has divided the Court and occasioned close distinctions. A statutory scheme under which a serviceman could claim his spouse as a "dependent" for allowances while a servicewoman's spouse was not considered a "dependent" unless he was shown in fact to be dependent upon her for more than one half of his support was held an invalid dissimilar treatment of similarly situated men and women, not justified by the administrative convenience rationale.1726 In Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld,1727 the Court struck down a Social Security provision that gave survivor's benefits based on the insured's earnings to the widow and minor children but gave such benefits only to the children and not to the widower of a deceased woman worker. Focusing not only upon the discrimination against the widower but primarily upon the discrimination visited upon the woman worker whose earnings did not provide the same support for her family that a male worker's did, the Court saw the basis for the distinction resting upon the generalization that a woman would stay home and take care of the children while a man would not. Since the Court perceived the purpose of the provision to be to enable the surviving parent to choose to remain at home to care for minor children, the sex classification ill fitted the end and was invidiously discriminatory.
But when in Califano v. Goldfarb1728 the Court was confronted with a Social Security provision structured much as the benefit sections struck down in Frontiero and Wiesenfeld, even in the light of an express heightened scrutiny, no majority of the Court could be obtained for the reason for striking down the statute. The section provided that a widow was entitled to receive survivors' benefits based on the earnings of her deceased husband, regardless of dependency, but payments were to go to the widower of a deceased wife only upon proof that he had been receiving at least half of his support from her. The plurality opinion treated the discrimination as consisting of disparate treatment of women wage-earners whose tax payments did not earn the same family protection as male wage earners' taxes. Looking to the purpose of the benefits provision, the plurality perceived it to be protection of the familial unit rather than of the individual widow or widower and to be keyed to dependency rather than need. The sex classification was thus found to be based on an assumption of female dependency which ill-served the purpose of the statute and was an ill-chosen proxy for the underlying qualification. Administrative convenience could not justify use of such a questionable proxy.1729 Justice Stevens, concurring, accepted most of the analysis of the dissent but nonetheless came to the conclusion of invalidity. His argument was essentially that while either administrative convenience or a desire to remedy discrimination against female spouses could justify use of a sex classification, neither purpose was served by the sex classification actually used in this statute.1730
1726 Frontiero v. Richardson, 411 U.S. 677 (1973).
1727 420 U.S. 636 (1975).
1728 430 U.S. 199 (1977). The dissent argued that whatever the classification utilized, social insurance programs should not automatically be subjected to heightened scrutiny but rather only to traditional rationality review. Id. at 224 (Justice Rehnquist with Chief Justice Burger and Justices Stewart and Blackmun). In Wengler v. Druggists Mutual Ins. Co., 446 U.S. 142 (1980), voiding a state workers' compensation provision identical to that voided in Goldfarb, only Justice Rehnquist continued to adhere to this view, although the others may have yielded only to precedent.
1729 430 U.S. at 204-09, 212-17 (Justices Brennan, White, Marshall, and Powell). Congress responded by eliminating the dependency requirement but by adding a pension offset provision reducing spousal benefits by the amount of various other pensions received. Continuation in this context of the Goldfarb gender-based dependency classification for a five-year "grace period" was upheld in Heckler v. Mat-hews, 465 U.S. 728 (1984), as directly and substantially related to the important governmental interest in protecting against the effects of the pension offset the retirement plans of individuals who had based their plans on unreduced pre- Goldfarb payment levels.
1730 430 U.S. at 217. Justice Stevens adhered to this view in Wengler v. Druggists Mutual Ins. Co., 446 U.S. 142, 154 (1980). Note the unanimity of the Court on the substantive issue, although it was divided on remedy, in voiding in Califano v. Westcott, 443 U.S. 76 (1979), a Social Security provision giving benefits to families with dependent children who have been deprived of parental support because of the unemployment of the father but giving no benefits when the mother is unemployed.
Again, the Court divided closely when it sustained two instances of classifications claimed to constitute sex discrimination. In Rostker v. Goldberg,1731 rejecting presidential recommendations, Congress provided for registration only of males for a possible future military draft, excluding women altogether. The Court discussed but did not explicitly choose among proffered equal protection standards, but it apparently applied the intermediate test of Craig v. Boren. However, it did so in the context of its often-stated preference for extreme deference to military decisions and to congressional resolution of military decisions. Evaluating the congressional determination, the Court found that it has not been "unthinking" or "reflexively" based upon traditional notions of the differences between men and women; rather, Congress had extensively deliberated over its decision. It had found, the Court asserted, that the purpose of registration was the creation of a pool from which to draw combat troops when needed, an important and indeed compelling governmental interest, and the exclusion of women was not only "sufficiently but closely" related to that purpose because they were ill-suited for combat, could be excluded from combat, and registering them would be too burdensome to the military system.1732
1731 453 U.S. 57 (1981). Joining the opinion of the Court were Justices Rehnquist, Stewart, Blackmun, Powell, and Stevens, and Chief Justice Burger. Dissenting were Justices White, Marshall, and Brennan. Id. at 83, 86.
1732 453 U.S. at 69-72, 78-83. The dissent argued that registered persons would fill noncombat positions as well as combat ones and that drafting women would add to women volunteers providing support for combat personnel and would free up men in other positions for combat duty. Both dissents assumed without deciding that exclusion of women from combat served important governmental interests. Id. at 83, 93. The majority's reliance on an administrative convenience argument, it should be noted, id. at 81, was contrary to recent precedent. See supra.
In Michael M. v. Superior Court,1733 the Court did expressly adopt the Craig v. Boren intermediate standard, but its application of the test appeared to represent a departure in several respects from prior cases in which it had struck down sex classifications. Michael M. involved the constitutionality of a statute that punished males, but not females, for having sexual intercourse with a nonspousal person under 18 years of age. The plurality and the concurrence generally agreed, but with some difference of emphasis, that while the law was founded on a clear sex distinction it was justified because it did serve an important governmental interest, the prevention of teenage pregnancies. Inasmuch as women may become pregnant and men may not, women would be better deterred by that biological fact, and men needed the additional legal deterrence of a criminal penalty. Thus, the law recognized that for purposes of this classification men and women were not similarly situated, and the statute did not deny equal protection.1734
Cases of "benign" discrimination, that is, statutory classifications that benefit women and disadvantage men in order to overcome the effects of past societal discrimination against women, have presented the Court with some difficulty. Although the first two cases were reviewed under apparently traditional rational basis scrutiny, the more recent cases appear to subject these classifications to the same intermediate standard as any other sex classification. Kahn v. Shevin1735 upheld a state property tax exemption allowing widows but not widowers a $500 exemption. In justification, the State had presented extensive statistical data showing the substantial economic and employment disabilities of women in relation to men. The provision, the Court found, was "reasonably designed to further the state policy of cushioning the financial impact of spousal loss upon the sex for whom that loss imposes a disproportionately heavy burden."1736 And in Schlesinger v. Ballard,1737 the Court sustained a provision requiring the mandatory discharge from the Navy of a male officer who has twice failed of promotion to certain levels, which in Ballard's case meant discharge after nine years of service, whereas women officers were entitled to 13 years of service before mandatory discharge for want of promotion. The difference was held to be a rational recognition of the fact that male and female officers were dissimilarly situated and that women had far fewer promotional opportunities than men had.
1733 450 U.S. 464 (1981). Joining the opinion of the Court were Justices Rehnquist, Stewart, and Powell, and Chief Justice Burger, constituting only a plurality. Justice Blackmun concurred in a somewhat more limited opinion. Id. at 481. Dissenting were Justices Brennan, White, Marshall, and Stevens. Id. at 488, 496.
1734 450 U.S. at 470-74, 481. The dissents questioned both whether the pregnancy deterrence rationale was the purpose underlying the distinction and whether, if it was, the classification was substantially related to achievement of the goal. Id. at 488, 496.
1735 416 U.S. 351 (1974).
1736 416 U.S. at 355.
1737 419 U.S. 498 (1975).
Although in each of these cases the Court accepted the proffered justification of remedial purpose without searching inquiry, later cases caution that "the mere recitation of a benign, compensatory purpose is not an automatic shield which protects against any inquiry into the actual purposes underlying a statutory scheme."1738 Rather, after specifically citing the heightened scrutiny that all sex classifications are subjected to, the Court looks to the statute and to its legislative history to ascertain that the scheme does not actually penalize women, that it was actually enacted to compensate for past discrimination, and that it does not reflect merely "archaic and overbroad generalizations" about women in its moving force. But where a statute is "deliberately enacted to compensate for particular economic disabilities suffered by women," it serves an important governmental objective and will be sustained if it is substantially related to achievement of that objective.1739
1738 Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld, 420 U.S. 636, 648 (1975); Califano v. Goldfarb, 430 U.S. 199, 209 n.8 (1977) Orr v. Orr, 440 U.S. 268, 280-82 (1979); Wengler v. Druggists Mutual Ins. Co., 446 U.S. 142, 150-52 (1980). In light of the stiffened standard, Justice Stevens has called for overruling Kahn, Califano v. Goldfarb, 430 U.S. at 223-24, but Justice Blackmun would preserve that case. Orr v. Orr, 440 U.S. at 284. Cf. Regents of the Univ. of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265, 302-03 (1978) (Justice Powell; less stringent standard of review for benign sex classifications).
1739 Califano v. Webster, 430 U.S. 313, 316-18, 320 (1977). There was no doubt that the provision sustained in Webster had been adopted expressly to relieve past societal discrimination. The four Goldfarb dissenters concurred specially, finding no difference between the two provisions. Id. at 321.
Many of these lines of cases converged in Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan,1740 in which the Court stiffened and applied its standards for evaluating claimed benign distinctions benefiting women and additionally appeared to apply the intermediate standard itself more strictly. The case involved a male nurse who wished to attend a female-only nursing school located in the city in which he lived and worked; if he could not attend this particular school he would have had to commute 147 miles to another nursing school which did accept men, and he would have had difficulty doing so and retaining his job. The State defended on the basis that the female-only policy was justified as providing "educational affirmative action for females." Recitation of a benign purpose, the Court said, was not alone sufficient. "[A] State can evoke a compensatory purpose to justify an otherwise discriminatory classification only if members of the gender benefited by the classification actually suffer a disadvantage related to the classification."1741 But women did not lack opportunities to obtain training in nursing; instead they dominated the field. In the Court's view, the state policy did not compensate for discriminatory barriers facing women, but it perpetuated the stereotype of nursing as a woman's job. "[A]lthough the State recited a 'benign, compensatory purpose,' it failed to establish that the alleged objective is the actual purpose underlying the discriminatory classification."1742 Even if the classification was premised on the proffered basis, the Court concluded, it did not substantially and directly relate to the objective, because the school permitted men to audit the nursing classes and women could still be adversely affected by the presence of men.1743
1740 458 U.S. 718 (1982). Joining the opinion of the Court were Justices O'Connor, Brennan, White, Marshall, and Stevens. Dissenting were Chief Justice Burger and Justices Blackmun, Powell, and Rehnquist. Id. at 733, 735.
1741 458 U.S. at 728.
1742 458 U.S. at 730. In addition to obligating the State to show that in fact there was existing discrimination or effects from past discrimination, the Court also appeared to take the substantial step of requiring the State "to establish that the legislature intended the single-sex policy to compensate for any perceived discrimination." Id. at 730 n.16. A requirement that the proffered purpose be the actual one and that it must be shown that the legislature actually had that purpose in mind would be a notable stiffening of equal protection standards.
1743 In the major dissent, Justice Powell argued that only a rational basis standard ought to be applied to sex classifications that would "expand women's choices," but that the exclusion here satisfied intermediate review because it promoted diversity of educational opportunity and was premised on the belief that single-sex colleges offer "distinctive benefits" to society. Id. at 735, 740 (emphasis by Justice), 743. The Court noted that because the State maintained no other single-sex public university or college, the case did not present "the question of whether States can provide 'separate but equal' undergraduate institutions for males and females," id. at 720 n.1, although Justice Powell thought the decision did preclude such institutions. Id. at 742-44. See Vorchheimer v. School Dist. of Philadelphia, 532 F. 2d 880 (3d Cir. 1976) (finding no equal protection violation in maintenance of two single-sex high schools of equal educational offerings, one for males, one for females), aff'd by an equally divided Court, 430 U.S. 703 (1977) (Justice Rehnquist not participating).
In a 1996 case, the Court required that a state demonstrate "exceedingly persuasive justification" for gender discrimination. When a female applicant challenged the exclusion of women from the historically male-only Virginia Military Institute (VMI), the State of Virginia defended the exclusion of females as essential to the nature of training at the military school.1744 The State argued that the VMI program, which included rigorous physical training, deprivation of personal privacy, and an "adversative model" that featured minute regulation of behavior, would need to be unacceptably modified to facilitate the admission of women. While recognizing that women's admission would require accommodation such as different housing assignments and physical training programs, the Court found that the reasons set forth by the State were not "exceedingly persuasive," and thus the State did not meet its burden of justification. The Court also rejected the argument that a parallel program established by the State at a private women's college served as an adequate substitute, finding that the program lacked the military-style structure found at VMI, and that it did not equal VMI in faculty, facilities, prestige or alumni network.
Another area presenting some difficulty is that of the relationship of pregnancy classifications to gender discrimination. In Cleveland Board of Education v. LaFluer,1745 a case decided upon due process grounds, two school systems requiring pregnant school teachers to leave work four and five months respectively before the expected childbirths were found to have acted arbitrarily and irrationally in establishing rules not supported by anything more weighty than administrative convenience buttressed with some possible embarrassment of the school boards in the face of pregnancy. On the other hand, the exclusion of pregnancy from a state financed program of payments to persons disabled from employment was upheld against equal protection attack as supportable by legitimate state interests in the maintenance of a self-sustaining program with rates low enough to permit the participation of low-income workers at affordable levels.1746 The absence of supportable reasons in one case and their presence in the other may well have made the significant difference.
1744 United States v. Virginia, 518 U.S. 515 (1996).
1745 414 U.S. 632 (1974). Justice Powell concurred on equal protection grounds. Id. at 651. See also Turner v. Department of Employment Security, 423 U.S. 44 (1975).
1746 Geduldig v. Aiello, 417 U.S. 484 (1974). The Court denied that the classification was based upon "gender as such." Classification was on the basis of pregnancy, and while only women can become pregnant, that fact alone was not determinative. "The program divides potential recipients into two groups—pregnant woman and nonpregnant persons. While the first group is exclusively female, the second includes members of both sexes." Id. at 496 n.20. For a rejection of a similar attempted distinction, see Nyquist v. Mauclet, 432 U.S. 1, 9 (1977); and Trimble v. Gordon, 430 U.S. 762, 774 (1977). See also Phillips v. Martin-Marietta Corp., 400 U.S. 542 (1971). The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k), now extends protection to pregnant women.
Last modified: June 9, 2014