Unconstitutionally Illegitimate Discrimination

Virginia Law Review, Vol. 105, 2019, Forthcoming

Duke Law School Public Law & Legal Theory Series

60 Pages Posted: 14 Feb 2018 Last revised: 23 Dec 2018

Date Written: December 23, 2018


When government officials express intent to disparage or discriminate against a group, the constitutional consequences can be severe, but they are rarely imposed. In this Article, I argue that discriminatory motive is and should be enough to declare government acts unconstitutional. Second, I argue that the main reason why is the harm to government legitimacy. While some argue that the concern with intentional discrimination is its harm, such as its stigmatizing effect, I argue that the focus should not be on harm, but on how it delegitimizes government. I make the descriptive claim that Constitutional doctrine, in its broad outlines, reflects a legitimacy-based view. In the Equal Protection context, courts have set out how discriminatory goals are not legitimate state interests. In the Executive action context, courts state that absent a legitimate and bona fide justification, the Executive may not have power delegated from Congress to act. What courts have not done is specified what happens when the hammer falls: how intent disables government policymaking and for how long. The legitimacy-focused approach can neutralize government decisions, even when the government tries to re-do its policy and claim new reasons. Third, I argue that a legitimacy-focused approach towards constitutional intent doctrine that I advance in this Article is normatively preferable. The approach does incentivize insincere reasons for government actions. However, I argue that advantages outweigh those costs. There are real benefits to even insincere expressions of non-discrimination. Conversely, when the government makes discriminatory statements, this is very strong evidence of discriminatory motive. During a time of nationwide litigation of intentional discrimination claims in areas including immigration rights, voting rights, and religious non-establishment, it has never been more important to set out the doctrine, the costs, and the consequences of unconstitutionally illegitimate intent.

Keywords: Intent, Discrimination, Constitutional Rights, Equal Protection Clause, Animus, Legitimacy, Public Reason

Suggested Citation

Garrett, Brandon L., Unconstitutionally Illegitimate Discrimination (December 23, 2018). Virginia Law Review, Vol. 105, 2019, Forthcoming, Duke Law School Public Law & Legal Theory Series, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3120413 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3120413

Brandon L. Garrett (Contact Author)

Duke University School of Law ( email )

210 Science Drive
Box 90362
Durham, NC 27708
United States
919-613-7090 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.brandonlgarrett.com/

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