Equality before the law

Last updated
Graffiti in Cape Town: "All shall be equal before the law." Graffiti Cape Town.jpg
Graffiti in Cape Town: "All shall be equal before the law."

Equality before the law, also known as equality under the law, equality in the eyes of the law, legal equality, or legal egalitarianism, is the principle that independent being must be treated equally by the law (principle of isonomy) and that all are subject to the same laws of justice (due process). [1] Therefore, the law must guarantee that no individual nor group of individuals be privileged or discriminated against by the government. Equality before the law is one of the basic principles of liberalism. [2] [3] This principle arises from various important and complex questions concerning equality, fairness and justice. Thus, the principle of equality before the law is incompatible and ceases to exist with legal systems such as slavery, servitude.


Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states: "All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law". [1] Thus, everyone must be treated equally under the law regardless of race, gender, color, ethnicity, religion, disability, or other characteristics, without privilege, discrimination or bias. The general guarantee of equality is provided by most of the world's national constitutions, [4] but specific implementations of this guarantee vary. For example, while many constitutions guarantee equality regardless of race, [5] only a few mention the right to equality regardless of nationality. [6]


Statue of Equality in Paris as an allegory of equality Place de la Republique - Egalite.jpg
Statue of Equality in Paris as an allegory of equality

The Bible says that "You and the foreigner shall be the same before the Lord: The same laws and regulations will apply both to you and to the foreigner residing among you." (Numbers 15:15f)

A legalist Guan Zhong (720–645 BC) declared that “the monarch and his subjects no matter how great and small they are complying with the law will be the great order”. [7]

The 431 BCE funeral oration of Pericles, recorded in Thucydides's History of the Peloponnesian War , includes a passage praising the equality among the free male citizens of the Athenian democracy:

If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in their private differences; if to social standing, advancement in public life falls to reputation for capacity, class considerations not being allowed to interfere with merit; nor again does poverty bar the way. [8]

The state of Nebraska adopted the motto 'Equality Before the Law' in 1867 and it appears on both the state flag and the state seal. [9]


Liberalism calls for equality before the law for all persons. [2] Classical liberalism as embraced by libertarians and modern American conservatives opposes pursuing group rights at the expense of individual rights. [3]

Proclamation by Sir George Arthur to Indigenous Tasmanians, purporting to show the equality of white and black before the law. File-Gov Davey's proclamation-edit1.jpg
Proclamation by Sir George Arthur to Indigenous Tasmanians, purporting to show the equality of white and black before the law.

In his Second Treatise of Government (1689), John Locke wrote: "A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another; there being nothing more evident, than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another without subordination or subjection, unless the lord and master of them all should, by any manifest declaration of his will, set one above another, and confer on him, by an evident and clear appointment, an undoubted right to dominion and sovereignty." [10]

In 1774, Alexander Hamilton wrote: "All men have one common original, they participate in one common nature, and consequently have one common right. No reason can be assigned why one man should exercise any power over his fellow creatures more than another, unless they voluntarily vest him with it". [11]

In Social Statics , Herbert Spencer defined it as a natural law "that every man may claim the fullest liberty to exercise his faculties compatible with the possession of like liberty to every other man". Stated another way by Spencer, "each has freedom to do all that he wills provided that he infringes not the equal freedom of any other". [12]


Equality before the law is a tenet of some branches of feminism. In the 19th century, gender equality before the law was a radical goal, but some later feminist views hold that formal legal equality is not enough to create actual and social equality between women and men. An ideal of formal equality may penalize women for failing to conform to a male norm while an ideal of different treatment may reinforce sexist stereotypes. [13]

In 1988, prior to serving as a Justice of the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote: "Generalizations about the way women or men are – my life experience bears out – cannot guide me reliably in making decisions about particular individuals. At least in the law, I have found no natural superiority or deficiency in either sex. In class or in grading papers from 1963 to 1980, and now in reading briefs and listening to arguments in court for over seventeen years, I have detected no reliable indicator or distinctly male or surely female thinking – even penmanship". [14] In an American Civil Liberties Union's Women's Rights Project in the 1970s, Ginsburg challenged in Frontiero v. Richardson the laws that gave health service benefits to wives of servicemen, but not to husbands of servicewomen. [15] There are over 150 national constitutions that currently mention equality regardless of gender. [16]

Article 200 of the Criminal Code of Japan, the penalty regarding parricide, was declared unconstitutional for violating the equality under the law by the Supreme Court of Japan in 1973. This was a result of the trial of the Tochigi patricide case. [17]

See also

Related Research Articles

Discrimination Prejudicial treatment based on membership in a certain group

Discrimination is the act of making unjustified distinctions between human beings based on the groups, classes, or other categories to which they are perceived to belong. People may be discriminated on the basis of race, gender, age, religion, or sexual orientation, as well as other categories. Discrimination especially occurs when individuals or groups are unfairly treated in a way which is worse than other people are treated, on the basis of their actual or perceived membership in certain groups or social categories. It involves restricting members of one group from opportunities or privileges that are available to members of another group.

Egalitarianism, or equalitarianism, is a school of thought within political philosophy that builds from the concept of social equality, prioritizing it for all people. Egalitarian doctrines are generally characterized by the idea that all humans are equal in fundamental worth or moral status. Egalitarianism is the doctrine that all citizens of a state should be accorded exactly equal rights.

Civil and political rights are a class of rights that protect individuals' freedom from infringement by governments, social organizations, and private individuals. They ensure one's entitlement to participate in the civil and political life of society and the state without discrimination or repression.

Womens rights Rights claimed for women and girls worldwide

Women's rights are the rights and entitlements claimed for women and girls worldwide. They formed the basis for the women's rights movement in the 19th century and the feminist movements during the 20th and 21st centuries. In some countries, these rights are institutionalized or supported by law, local custom, and behavior, whereas in others, they are ignored and suppressed. They differ from broader notions of human rights through claims of an inherent historical and traditional bias against the exercise of rights by women and girls, in favor of men and boys.

"Justice as Fairness: Political not Metaphysical" is an essay by John Rawls, published in 1985. In it he describes his conception of justice. It comprises two main principles of liberty and equality; the second is subdivided into Fair Equality of Opportunity and the Difference Principle.

Equal opportunity is a state of fairness in which individuals are treated similarly, unhampered by artificial barriers or prejudices or preferences, except when particular distinctions can be explicitly justified. The intent is that the important jobs in an organization should go to the people who are most qualified – persons most likely to perform ably in a given task – and not go to persons for reasons deemed arbitrary or irrelevant, such as circumstances of birth, upbringing, having well-connected relatives or friends, religion, sex, ethnicity, race, caste, or involuntary personal attributes such as disability, age, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

Liberal feminism, also called mainstream feminism, is a main branch of feminism defined by its focus on achieving gender equality through political and legal reform within the framework of liberal democracy. As the oldest of the "Big Three" schools of feminist thought, liberal feminism has its roots in 19th century first-wave feminism that focused particularly on women's suffrage and access to education, and that was associated with 19th century liberalism and progressivism. Traditional liberal feminism has a strong focus on political and legal reforms aiming to give women equal rights and opportunities. Liberal feminists argue that society holds the false belief that women are, by nature, less intellectually and physically capable than men; thus it tends to discriminate against women in the academy, the forum, and the marketplace. Liberal feminists believe that "female subordination is rooted in a set of customary and legal constraints that blocks women's entrance to and success in the so-called public world", and strive for sexual equality via political and legal reform. Liberal feminism "works within the structure of mainstream society to integrate women into that structure."

Equal pay for equal work is the concept of labour rights that individuals in the same workplace be given equal pay. It is most commonly used in the context of sexual discrimination, in relation to the gender pay gap. Equal pay relates to the full range of payments and benefits, including basic pay, non-salary payments, bonuses and allowances. Some countries have moved faster than others in addressing equal pay.

Gender equality Equal access for all genders to rights, resources, opportunities and protections

Gender equality, also known as sexual equality or equality of the sexes, is the state of equal ease of access to resources and opportunities regardless of gender, including economic participation and decision-making; and the state of valuing different behaviors, aspirations and needs equally, regardless of gender.

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women An international bill of rights for women

The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is an international treaty adopted in 1979 by the United Nations General Assembly. Described as an international bill of rights for women, it was instituted on 3 September 1981 and has been ratified by 189 states. Over fifty countries that have ratified the Convention have done so subject to certain declarations, reservations, and objections, including 38 countries who rejected the enforcement article 29, which addresses means of settlement for disputes concerning the interpretation or application of the Convention. Australia's declaration noted the limitations on central government power resulting from its federal constitutional system. The United States and Palau have signed, but not ratified the treaty. The Holy See, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, and Tonga are not signatories to CEDAW.

The law of equal liberty is the fundamental precept of liberalism and socialism. Stated in various ways by many thinkers, it can be summarized as the view that all persons must be granted the maximum possible freedom as long as that freedom does not interfere with the freedom of anyone else. While socialists have been hostile to liberalism, accused of "providing an ideological cover for the depredation of capitalism", it has been pointed out that "the goals of liberalism are not so different from those of the socialists", although this similarity in goals has been described as being deceptive due to the different meanings liberalism and socialism give to liberty, equality and solidarity, including the meaning, implications and norms of equal liberty derived from it.

Equal rights may refer to:

The Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women is a human rights proclamation issued by the United Nations General Assembly, outlining that body's views on women's rights. It was adopted by the General Assembly on 7 November 1967. The Declaration was an important precursor to the legally binding 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). It was drafted by the Commission on the Status of Women in 1967.

European labour law regulates basic transnational standards of employment and partnership at work in the European Union and countries adhering to the European Convention on Human Rights. In setting regulatory floors to competition to for job-creating investment within the Union, and in promoting a degree of employee consultation in the workplace, European labour law is viewed as a pillar of the "European social model". Despite wide variation in employment protection and related welfare provision between member states, a contrast is typically drawn with conditions in the United States.

Social equality is a state of affairs in which all people within a specific society have the equal rights, liberties, and status, possibly including civil rights, freedom of speech, property rights, and equal access to certain social goods and social services. Social equality requires the absence of legally enforced social class or caste boundaries and the absence of discrimination motivated by an inalienable part of a person's identity. For example, advocates of social equality believe in equal justice under law for all people regardless of sex, gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, origin, caste or class, income or property, language, religion, convictions, opinions, health, or disability. Social equality is related to equal opportunity.

State equal rights amendments Provide various degrees of legal protection against discrimination

States have passed state equal rights amendments (ERAs) to their constitutions that provide various degrees of legal protection against discrimination based on sex. With some mirroring the broad language and guarantees of the proposed Federal Equal Rights Amendment, others more closely resemble the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Women’s Equal Rights Law, 5711-1951 was passed by the First Knesset of the State of Israel in order to explicitly guarantee the equal status of men and women in the newly established state. The law was enacted three years after Executive Chairman of the World Zionist Organization and Head of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, David Ben-Gurion, issued Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which promised “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, irrespective of religion, race, or sex.” Since its inception, the Women’s Equal Rights Law, 5711-1951 has been met with both praise and criticism.

Gender equality is the notion that all men and women should receive equal treatment in all aspects and that one should not be discriminated based on their sex. Gender equality is a human right and this is recognised by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The right to be free of discrimination on the grounds of sex is found pursuant to Article 2 of the declaration.

P v S and Cornwall County Council was a landmark case of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) which extended the scope of sex equality to discrimination against transsexuals.

Gender equality in Azerbaijan

Gender equality in Azerbaijan is guaranteed by the country's constitution and legislation, and an initiative is in place to prevent domestic violence. Azerbaijan ratified a United Nations convention in 1995, and a Gender Information Center opened in 2002. A committee on women's issues was established in 1998.


  1. 1 2 "Universal Declaration of Human Rights". www.un.org. Retrieved 31 March 2018.
  2. 1 2 Chandran Kukathas, "Ethical Pluralism from a Classical Liberal Perspective," in The Many Pacqiuo and the One: Religious and Secular Perspectives on Ethical Pluralism in the Modern World, ed. Richard Madsen and Tracy B. Strong, Ethikon Series in Comparative Ethics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), p. 61 ( ISBN   0-691-09993-6).
  3. 1 2 Mark Evans, ed., Edinburgh Companion to Contemporary Liberalism: Evidence and Experience (London: Routledge, 2001), p. 55 ( ISBN   1-57958-339-3).
  4. "Read about "Equality" on Constitute". constituteproject.org. Retrieved 31 March 2018.
  5. "Read about "Equality regardless of race" on Constitute". constituteproject.org. Retrieved 31 March 2018.
  6. "Read about "Equality regardless of nationality" on Constitute". constituteproject.org. Retrieved 31 March 2018.
  7. Xia Zhang:Further Discussion on the Spirit of Rule of Law Advances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research, volume 233. 3rd International Conference on Contemporary Education, Social Sciences and Humanities (ICCESSH 2018).
  8. Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War , Written 431 BCE, Translated by Richard Crawley (1874), retrieved via Project Gutenberg.
  9. Nebraska State Motto 50 State Guide, eReferenceDesk.
  10. John Locke (1689). Second Treatise of Government . Chapter 2.
  11. Alexander Hamilton (15 December 1774). "A Full Vindication of the Measures of the Congress". National Archives of Founders Online. Harold C. Syrett, ed. (1961). The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 1 (1768–1778). New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 45–78.
  12. Herbert Spencer. Social Statics . c. 4, § 3.
  13. Jaggar, Alison. (1994) "Part One: Equality. Introduction." In Living with Contradictions: Controversies in Feminist Social Ethics . Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
  14. Jeff Rosen, "The Book of Ruth," New Republic, August 2, 1993, p. 19.
  15. O'Dea, Suzanne. From Suffrage to the Senate: An Encyclopedia of American Women in Politics , ABC-CLIO, 1999
  16. "Read about "Equality regardless of gender" on Constitute". constituteproject.org. Retrieved 31 March 2018.
  17. Dean, Meryll (2002). Japanese legal system. Routledge via Google Books. p. 535

Further reading