In this Article, I argue for a new understanding of the immutability factor employed by courts in determining which classifications ought to receive suspect status under the Equal Protection Clause. Drawing on the process-based foundations of the Equal Protection Clause, this new understanding defines immutable traits not as traits that cannot be changed, but as traits that are in the words of the Supreme Court in Frontiero v. Richardson, mere "accident[s] of birth." In contrast, courts and scholars typically center the immutability inquiry on an individual’s technical ability to exit a particular class, which has led to inconsistencies in applying equal protection doctrine to criminality, alienage, and sexual preference classifications.
Understanding immutability in this way is vital given the ongoing litigation surrounding same-sex marriage. Courts, in addressing whether sexual preference can constitute a suspect classification, all too often get bogged down in biological studies or psychological profiling in an attempt to determine whether sexual preference is something that can be changed. In doing so, courts often import definitions of immutability from other doctrinal contexts, such as asylum or Title VII law. Doing so simply confuses the type of inquiry underlying the principles driving the Supreme Court’s process-based approach to the Equal Protection Clause.
- equal protection,
- suspect classifications
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/michael_helfand/5/