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Boston University School of Law




In Bolling v. Sharpe, the Supreme Court invalidated school segregation in the District of Columbia by inferring a broad “federal equal protection” principle from the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. It is often assumed that this principle is inconsistent with the Constitution’s original meaning and with “originalist” interpretation.

This Article demonstrates, however, that a federal equal protection principle is not only consistent with the Constitution’s original meaning, but inherent in it. The Constitution was crafted as a fiduciary document of the kind that, under contemporaneous law, imposed on agents acting for more than one beneficiary – and on officials serving the general public – a well-established duty to serve all impartially. The Constitution, like other fiduciary instruments, imposes a standard of equal treatment from which lawmakers and officials cannot depart without reasonable cause. Although the Constitution’s original meaning does not precisely define the answers to all “equal protection” cases, and does not necessarily prescribe norms identical to those of existing equal protection jurisprudence, it clearly does prohibit racial discrimination of the kind at issue in Bolling.


Published as: Gary Lawson, Guy Seidman & Robert Natelson, The Fiduciary Foundations of Federal Equal Protection, 94 Boston University Law Review 415 (2014).

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