Antisubjugation and the Equal Protection of the Laws

Published date01 October 2021
Date01 October 2021
ARTICLES
Antisubjugation and the Equal Protection of the
Laws
EVAN D. BERNICK* TABLE OF CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
I. EQUAL PROTECTION THEORY AND DOCTRINE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
A. THEORY: ANTIDISCRIMINATION VERSUS PROTECTION . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
1. Antidiscrimination . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
a. Anticlassif‌ication. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
b. Antisubordination . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
2. Protection . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
B. DOCTRINE: DISCRIMINATORY INTENT, STATE ACTION, AND NEGATIVE
RIGHTS................................................. 10
1. Discriminatory Intent . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
2. The State Action Doctrine . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
3. The Positive-Rights Exclusion. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
II. METHODOLOGY OF THE ARTICLE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
A. THE LETTER: ORIGINAL MEANING . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
B. THE SPIRIT: ORIGINAL PURPOSE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
C. PRECEDENT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
III. THE LETTER OF THE EQUAL PROTECTION CLAUSE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
A. ALLEGIANCE AND PROTECTION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
B. EQUAL PROTECTION IN ABOLITIONIST THOUGHT. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
* Assistant Professor of Law, Northern Illinois University College of Law. © 2021, Evan D. Bernick.
I would like to thank Randy Barnett, Mary Anne Case, Guy-Uriel Charles, Travis Crum, Dick Fallon,
David Gans, Christopher Green, Aziz Huq, Mike McConnell, Larry Solum, Brian Leiter, John Mikhail,
Julian Mortensen, Jennifer Nou, Raf‌i Reznik, and Robin West for their helpful insights and comments.
1
C. FRAMING EQUAL PROTECTION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29
D. RATIFICATION. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34
E. ENFORCEMENT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36
1. Before the Slaughter-House Cases. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36
2. After the Slaughter-House Cases. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43
IV. THE SPIRIT OF THE EQUAL PROTECTION CLAUSE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48
A. ANTISUBJUGATION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48
B. CONGRESSIONAL CONSTRUCTION. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53
C. LEGITIMATING THE CRIMINAL-PROCEDURAL REVOLUTION . . . . . . . . . 56
D. SOCIAL MOVEMENT CONSTRUCTION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59
V. OBJECTIONS. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 62
A. DOCTRINAL IMPACT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 63
1. On Antidiscrimination . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 63
2. On Discriminatory Intent and the Tiers of Scrutiny . . . . . 64
3. On Voting Rights . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 66
B. WOMEN’S RIGHTS. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 68
C. BLACK LIVES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 70
CONCLUSION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 72
INTRODUCTION
For nearly 150 years, the Supreme Court has held that the Fourteenth
Amendment to the United States Constitution does not secure “positive” rights to
governmental aid or apply to “private” action. This Article argues that neither of
those things is true as a matter of the original meaning and purpose of the Equal
Protection Clause. It then contends that constitutional doctrine should be recon-
structed to realize the Constitution’s promise of “the equal protection of the laws.”
1
The Court has articulated a general rule against judicial use of the Fourteenth
Amendment’s Due Process Clause to guarantee governmental protection against
private violence.
2
It has also hindered Congress’s efforts to provide civil remedies
1. U.S. CONST. amend. XIV, § 1.
2. See DeShaney v. Winnebago Cnty. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 489 U.S. 189, 197 (1989).
2 THE GEORGETOWN LAW JOURNAL [Vol. 110:1
for private violence.
3
At the same time, the Court has insisted that the Equal
Protection Clause generally prohibits unjustif‌ied, intentional discrimination.
4
Scholars have long questioned these features of Fourteenth Amendment law.
One group of scholars—call them protection theorists—contends that the original
meaning of “the equal protection of the laws”
5
only guarantees security against
physical violence and possibly access to the courts.
6
Another group of scholars
contends that the “state-action doctrine” is incoherent
7
and that the original mean-
ing of the Fourteenth Amendment does guarantee positive rights to certain kinds
of governmental aid, including protective services.
8
This Article contends that the Equal Protection Clause guarantees both nondis-
criminatory law enforcement and nondiscriminatory laws. The Clause also pro-
hibits states from interfering with any protection provided by constitutionally
proper federal laws. Under the Clause, state governments are:
(1) required to impartially execute nondiscriminatory state laws that protect
life, liberty, and property;
(2) required to provide people with impartial access to the courts;
(3) prohibited from enacting discriminatory laws that unreasonably burden or
benef‌it the life, liberty, and property of some people more than others;
3. See United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598, 626–27 (2000).
4. See, e.g., Engquist v. Or. Dep’t of Agric., 553 U.S. 591, 611 (2008) (Stevens, J., dissenting)
(“[T]he purpose of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is to secure every person
within the State’s jurisdiction against intentional and arbitrary discrimination, whether occasioned by
express terms of a statute or by its improper execution through duly constituted agents.” (quoting Vill. of
Willowbrook v. Olech, 528 U.S. 562, 564 (2000))); Washington v. Davis, 426 U.S. 229, 239 (1976)
(“The central purpose of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is the prevention of
off‌icial conduct discriminating on the basis of race.”); Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U.S. 629, 635 (1950)
(“Equal protection of the laws is not achieved through indiscriminate imposition of inequalities.”
(quoting Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1, 22 (1948))).
5. U.S. CONST. amend. XIV, § 1.
6. See, e.g., Alfred Avins, The Equal “Protection” of the Laws: The Original Understanding, 12
N.Y.L.F. 385 (1966); Earl A. Maltz, The Concept of Equal Protection of the Laws—A Historical
Inquiry, 22 SAN DIEGO L. REV. 499 (1985); John Harrison, Reconstructing the Privileges or Immunities
Clause, 101 YALE L.J. 1385, 1390–92 (1992); Christopher R. Green, The Original Sense of the (Equal)
Protection Clause: Pre-Enactment History, 19 GEO. MASON U. C.R.L.J. 1 (2008) [hereinafter Green,
Pre-Enactment History]; Christopher R. Green, The Original Sense of the (Equal) Protection Clause:
Subsequent Interpretation and Application, 19 GEO. MASON U. C.R.L.J. 219 (2009) [hereinafter Green,
Subsequent Interpretation]; WILLIAM J. STUNTZ, THE COLLAPSE OF AMERICAN CRIMINAL JUSTICE 104–
05 (2011) (contending on originalist grounds for narrow conceptions of equal protection that do not
include a general nondiscrimination guarantee).
7. See, e.g., Charles L. Black, Jr., The Supreme Court, 1966 Term –– Foreword: “State Action,”
Equal Protection, and California’s Proposition 14, 81 HARV. L. REV. 69, 95 (1967); LOUIS MICHAEL
SEIDMAN & MARK V. TUSHNET, REMNANTS OF BELIEF: CONTEMPORARY CONSTITUTIONAL ISSUES 49–71
(1996); Cass R. Sunstein, State Action is Always Present, 3 CHI. J. INTL L. 465 (2002) (criticizing the
state action doctrine on nonoriginalist grounds).
8. See, e.g., Robin West, Toward an Abolitionist Interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment, 94 W.
VA. L. REV. 111, 129 (1991); Steven J. Heyman, The First Duty of Government: Protection, Liberty and
the Fourteenth Amendment, 41 DUKE L.J. 507 (1991) (arguing that the original meaning of the
Fourteenth Amendment guarantees positive rights to protective services).
2021] ANTISUBJUGATION 3

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