Racial and Sexual Paternalism

72 Pages Posted: 2 Jul 2009 Last revised: 16 Oct 2009

See all articles by Kelly Sarabyn

Kelly Sarabyn

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: June 1, 2009


In the voluminous literature on the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection jurisprudence, scholars almost universally construe conservative justices as deploying a 'colorblind' or 'classification' principle to adjudicate race based cases. Progressive scholars have criticized the conservative position for two major failings. First, for ignoring the social reality of race, and second, for leaving minorities’ subordinate position in society intact.

In this article, I offer a new interpretation of the conservative justices' jurisprudence as outlawing the paternalism of blacks. By tracing the evolution of this principle in the legal doctrine, I show how the conservatives adopted this position directly from the progressives' equal protection jurisprudence banning the paternalism of women. This interpretation explains why the conservative justices do allow the state to 'see' race in certain cases, such as with peremptory jury strikes and specific remediation.

After detailing this anti-paternalism principle in the conservative doctrine, I highlight the history of racial paternalism as a tool of oppression, and correspondingly, demonstrate how this new interpretation is capable of responding to progressive concerns. This calls on progressives to defend their own jurisprudence as superior to an anti-paternalism principle.

Keywords: equal protection, Fourteenth Amendment, race, sex, gender, conservatives, progressives, constitutional law

Suggested Citation

Sarabyn, Kelly, Racial and Sexual Paternalism (June 1, 2009). George Mason University Civil Rights Law Journal, Vol. 19, No. 3, 2009. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1427910

Kelly Sarabyn (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

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