Court Strikes Down State Law That Excludes Women

1971

In Reed v. Reed, the U.S. Supreme Court, for the first time, says a state law that treats men and women differently violates the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. The Idaho law gave automatic preference to men to become an administrator of a will. The plaintiffs had argued that the long history of discrimination against women required the Court to view sex discrimination the same way it treats race discrimination. The state should be required to justify any differing treatment with the most compelling reasons.

Although the Court finds that women are entitled to equal protection under the 14th Amendment, it refuses to extend a higher level of legal protection as it has in race discrimination cases. Nevertheless, the Court finds that the Idaho statute is unreasonable and thus unconstitutional. For the next five years, the Court will struggle with how to decide the constitutionality of laws that treated women differently.