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In U.S. law, the constitutional guarantee that no person or group will be denied such protection under the law as is enjoyed by similar persons or groupsi.e., persons similarly situated must be treated similarly. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States prohibits states from denying any person the equal protection of the laws. Until the mid-20th century the requirement was applied minimallyexcept in some cases of racial discrimination, such as the use of literacy tests and grandfather clauses to restrict the voting rights of blacks. In Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the Supreme Court of the United States upheld separate but equal facilities for the races, thus sanctioning racial segregation. Beginning in the 1960s, the court under Chief Justice Earl Warren dramatically expanded the concept, applying it to cases involving welfare benefits, exclusionary zoning, municipal services, and school financing. During the tenure of Chief Justices Warren E. Burger and William H. Rehnquist, the court continued to add to the types of cases that might be adjudicated under equal protection, including cases involving sexual discrimination, the status and rights of aliens, abortion rights, and access to the courts.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on equal protection, visit Britannica.com.