This is the legal assurance provided for in the US constitution that all categories of people should be accorded equal protection in similar circumstances by state governments. This clause is contained in the Fourteenth Amendment –enacted in 1868-and touches on citizens’ pursuit of happiness, their liberties, lives and property. Effectiveness; On the positive side, the equal protection clause protects the rights of the individual against abuse by state government agencies. This was not the case before it was enacted whereby protection of the violations of individuals’ rights by the federal government only was provided for.
Thus the clause makes the constitution more encompassing and wholesome. The equal protection clause has not always been as effective as desired. It has also been an easy subject for abuse especially by the legal fraternity. This is primarily due to its deficiency in definition and also in some instances ambiguity as highlighted below. Slavery and prejudice against non whites was deeply embedded in the fabric of US society. For instance, a slave was regarded as three fifths of a person (Article 1, Section 2).
Slave masters were allowed to trade in and treat slaves as they pleased. This subjected slaves to whatever inhuman treatment the slave masters deemed fit. The Supreme Court formally confirmed this skewed notion that slaves were only property with no legal protection in 1857 by approving slavery as an institution (MchWhirtner, 1995, p. 23). Some oppressive labor codes were also passed. Under these codes, blacks were never to leave their jobs and criminal punishments were instituted for African Americans who quit their job.
These in total disregard of the fact that an individual could have cleared their debts with the employer and hence are under no obligation to work for the said employer. This was clearly oppressive; nonetheless it was ironically contained in the Equal Protection Clause. The Supreme Court also sometimes blundered in the execution of its constitutional mandate. For instance, the Civil Rights Act of 1875 that provided for the equality of all was stuck down by the Supreme Court. This was a step in the wrong direction for civil rights. The Supreme Court was biased in the interpretation of the law as regarded racial inequality and segregation.
For instance, in 1896 a man of mixed parentage (Caucasian and African) was denied travel on a whites’ coach in Louisiana. The Supreme Court decided that there was no breach of the Equal Protection Clause. The Equal Protection Clause applies only as regards the government and not to individuals. Therefore discrimination of persons by individuals or private enterprises is not dealt with in this law. This leaves a leeway for persons to practice discrimination of whatever type whether intentionally or otherwise (MachWhirtner, 1995, p. 78).