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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Nominee Roberts and definitions of scrutiny

In the Roberts confirmation hearings earlier today, Senator Biden and Judge Roberts got into an exchange about a 1982 memo, in which Roberts supposedly said that some sort of gender discrimination should not get "heightened scrutiny". Roberts explained that statutes differentiating on the basis of gender get "intermediate" scrutiny, and said that what the memo meant by "heightened" scrutiny was the more traditional "strict scrutiny", a very tough hurdle to pass. (Intermediate scrutiny requires the showing of an important, but not a "compelling", governmental interest. Also, the statute must be "substantially related" to the governmental interest, whereas in strict scrutiny, the statute must be necessary to serve that interest, and/or there must be no less restrictive means of serving that interest.)

I've been poking around in US Supreme Court precedent from before and a bit after 1982. It looks as if "heightened scrutiny" at least frequently meant "intermediate scrutiny", at least in the context of gender discrimination. See Rostker v. Goldberg et al., 453 U.S. 57, 69-70, 87 (1981); Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202, 238-239 (1982). However, there are cases where my quick and distracted read suggests that "heightened" scrutiny may mean strict scrutiny, or at least isn't clearly limited to "intermediate" scrutiny. See Regents University California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265, 296 (1978) (where I think the context in which "heightened judicial solicitude" is mentioned suggests strict scrutiny); City of Mobile v. Bolden et al., 446 U.S. 55, dissent fn. 15 (1980) (context is filing fees for voting).

So, I am a bit skeptical about Roberts' explanation, but depending on the context, maybe I shouldn't be....

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