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The Equal Protection Clause

The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution is the source for many of our most important constitutional freedoms. One of the Fourteenth Amendment’s crucial provisions is its guarantee that no state shall deprive any person of the “equal protection of the laws.” The Equal Protection Clause has become a foundation for the Constitution’s commitment to equality. However, determining what constitutes “equal protection” has been difficult.

Frontiero v. Richardson

411 U.S. 677 (1973)

MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN announced the judgment of the Court in an opinion in which MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS,MR. JUSTICE WHITE, and MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL join.

The question before us concerns the right of a female member of the uniformed services to claim her spouse as a “dependent” for the purposes of obtaining increased quarters allowances and medical and dental benefits under 37 U.S.C. § 401, 403, and 10 U.S.C. § 1072, 1076, on an equal footing with male members. Under these statutes, a serviceman may claim his wife as a “dependent” without regard to whether she is in fact dependent upon him for any part of her support. A servicewoman, on the other hand, may not claim her husband as a “dependent” under these programs unless he is in fact dependent upon her for over one-half of his support. Thus, the question for decision is whether this difference in treatment constitutes an unconstitutional discrimination against servicewomen in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. A three-judge District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, one judge dissenting, rejected this contention and sustained the constitutionality of the provisions of the statutes making this distinction. . . . We reverse.

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