• Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court reaffirmed that discrimination based on sex is contrary to the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, but only a plurality of the justices recognized all gender classifications as inherently suspect.

A federal law automatically allowed a male member of the armed service to claim his spouse as a dependent, but a female member did not receive this benefit unless she could show that her spouse depended on her for more than half of his support. Sharron Frontiero, a married Air Force lieutenant, asserted that the policy was unconstitutional. By an 8-1 vote, the Supreme Court upheld her claim.Equal protection clauseSuspect classificationsDiscrimination, sex;Frontiero v. Richardson[Frontiero v. Richardson]Equal protection clauseSuspect classifications

Justice William J. Brennan, Jr.,Brennan, William J., Jr.;Frontiero v. Richardson[Frontiero v. Richardson] speaking for a four-member plurality, wanted to declare that all gender classifications were suspect, which would require that they be judged by the same stringent standards accorded to classifications based on race. He noted that sex was an immutable characteristic, that it had long been the basis of invidious discrimination, and that congressional endorsement of the Equal Rights Amendment demonstrated public acknowledgment of the problem. Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr., speaking for three justices, argued that a decision on the level of scrutiny was not necessary to decide the case.Judicial scrutiny, levels of In addition, because the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (which never took place) might settle the scrutiny issue, the Court should not preempt a political decision, which the Constitution reserved to the states.

In Craig v. Boren[case]Craig v. Boren[Craig v. Boren] (1976), the Court returned to the issue of whether to apply the rational basis or strict scrutiny test when examining allegations of sex discrimination, and the majority agreed on a compromise: heightened, or intermediate, scrutiny.[case]Frontiero v. Richardson[Frontiero v. Richardson]

Craig v. Boren

Equal protection clause

Gender issues

Judicial scrutiny

Reed v. Reed

Rostker v. Goldberg

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