Document Type

Article

Publication Date

1988

Abstract

Congress has enacted a series of civil rights laws designed to protect individuals from public an private forms of irrational discrimination. To be lawful, such civil rights statutes must conform with the definition of rationality required by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Yet, in one fashion, these statutes are as irrational as the behavior they seek to control. The statutes protect only certain classes of individuals in limited instances. This article argues that the existing civil rights laws, although integral to a free society, are but a first step. The statute will never be fully rational, never completely fair, until all persons are protected from arbitrary discrimination. For instances, a statute which protects individuals from racial discrimination in contractual transactions serves a valued social function. Yet, the same statute reformed to protect all persons from the imposition of irrational discrimination in the realm of contracts would be better. This article shows that limiting the coverage of civil rights statutes to a handful of selected classes unduly limits the protections which should be accorded to every person.

After establishing analytical tools under equal protection analysis, the article then reviews selected federal civil rights enactments to discern their purposes and assess their rationality. We find that these laws, joining the equal protection precedents, form a national project of equality and dignity designed to allow each individual the opportunity to achieve ends and pursue chosen goals free from certain forms of irrational discrimination. Thus, the very project of devising both civil rights statutes and constitutional standards of rationality to proscribe certain forms of irrational discrimination plants the seeds for a more pervasive and important social endeavor, specifically the vindication of the individual dignity of all persons engaged in social interactions and projects such as employment, housing, and contractual negotiations. Legislatures, therefore, must sculpt the civil rights law to protect all individuals who engage in the particular type of activities encompassed by the statute. The thesis holds that any coverage less complete or coverage that fails to protect individuals from arbitrary infringement of their civil rights renders the statute itself partially arbitrary and irrational.

Publication Citation

45 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. 1 (1988).