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America can be justifiably proud of the enormous strides its legal system has made since the end of World War II in identifying and vindicating equality rights under the U.S. Constitution. The 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, striking down the separate-but-equal doctrine in public education, provided the inspiration and the doctrinal basis for racial minorities, women, aliens, children born out of wedlock, the disabled, and the poor to pursue their claims for evenhanded treatment in the courts. We also have seen greater judicial protection of equality in the exercise of rights guaranteed by the first amendment to the Constitution, such as freedom of religion, speech, and the press. For all this progress, however, the Supreme Court has over the last two decades embraced "doctrines of limitation" that severely constrain the ability of equality claims to get a judicial hearing and to receive vindication. These doctrines raise serious questions as to whether the federal court system can be looked to in the future for meaningful protection of equality rights. It is to a brief discussion of a few of these doctrines-state action, discriminatory intent, and federalism-that I would like to turn.
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