Brief Fact Summary.
The California Department of Corrections had a policy of racially segregating prisoners.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Strict scrunity applies to all racial classifications, even those that purportedly do not benefit or burden any particular group.
All racial classifications imposed by the government must be analyzed by a reviewing court under strict scrutiny.View Full Point of Law
The California Department of Corrections (CDC) had a policy of racially segregating prisoners for up to sixty days each time they enter a new correctional racility. Their asserted goal was to prevent violence cause by racial gangs, and they cited testimonial evidence of the likelihood of such violence.
Should strict scrutiny apply to “neutral” racial classifications that do not benefit or burden any particular group?
Yes, strict scrutiny should apply to “neutral” racial classifications that do not benefit or burden any particular group.
Justice Thomas cited evidence showing the extent of violence along racial lines in California prisons. He argued that the CDC’s policy is reasonably related to a legitimate interest, and that it would also pass strict scrutiny.
Justice Ginsburg wrote separately to disagree with the notion that strict scrutiny should apply to all racial classifications. However, she agreed that it should apply here.
The Supreme Court held that strict scrutiny applies even when the racial classification at issue benefits or burdens the races equally. The Supreme Court also reasoned that the segregation at issue here could exacerbate racial hostility in prisons. The Supreme Court noted that being subject to the strict scrutiny test did not inherently mean a statute would be struck down. There was still an opportunity for the state to show that their racial classification is narrowly tailored to a compelling goverment interest.