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Equal Protection Purpose Or Impact?
Palmer v. Thompson In Palmer, the Court held that a city council decision to close municipal swimming pools following court-ordered integration did not violate the Equal Protection Clause. After observing that "no case in this Court has held that a legislative act may violate equal protection solely because of the motivations of the men who voted for it," the Court advanced two reasons why investigation of purpose was improper: (1) the difficulty of ascertaining motive; and (2) an "element of futility in a judicial attempt to invalidate a law because of the bad motives of its supporters." The Court distinguished Gomillion as resting on the actual effect of the enactment,not the motivation which led the State to behave as it did. The Washington v. Davis court sought to distinguish Palmer on the ground that the poll closing extended "identical treatment to both whites and Negroes." Taken together, Palmer and Davis suggest that a facially neutral statute is subject to enhanced review only when it has both a discriminatory purpose and a disproportionate impact. But it is difficult to see how this would be consistent with Brown v. Board of Education. Washington v. Davis In Davis, the Court held that there must be proof of discriminatory purpose in order to subject a facially neutral law to strict scrutiny under the equal protection clause. The Court reasoned that the central purpose of the equal protection clause was to prevent official conduct discriminating on the basis of race (causing expressive harm) - not to provide substantive racial equality. And the Court emphasized that allowing discriminatory impact to suffice in proving a racial classification "would raise serious questions about, and perhaps invalidate, a whole range of tax, welfare, public service, regulatory, and licensing statutes that may be more burdensome to the poor and to the average black than to the more affluent white." Nonetheless, the Court indicated that "an invidious discriminatory purpose may often be inferred form the totality of the relevant facts, including that the law bears more heavily on one race than another." The Court declined to invalidate the use of Test 21, finding that it was neutral on its face and rationally designed to serve a purpose that the government was constitutionally empowered to pursue. TRIBE wrote: The goal of the Equal Protection Clause is not to stamp out impure thoughts, but to guarantee a full measure of human dignity for all. Beyond the purposeful affirmative adoption or use of rules that disadvantage them, minorities can also be injured when the government is "only" indifferent to their suffering. Strict judicial scrutiny should be used for those government acts that, given their history, context, source, and effect, seem most likely not only to perpetuate subordination but also to reflect a tradition of hostility [or indifference] towards a historically subjugated group.
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