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The Right to Equal Protection is a concept that was introduced into the Constitution of the United States during the American Civil War. It is intended to protect the rights provided by the United States Constitution for all individuals regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, etc. It is fundamentally based on the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, intended to secure rights for former slaves. The Constitution is claimed to uphold racial and gender equality, but until the 1950s, enforcing slavery, segregation, and gender inequality were major aspects of the history of the American federal government.
In 1896, the United States Supreme Court determined that the "separate but equal" doctrine was constitutional in the case Plessy v. Ferguson. Although the Fourteenth Amendment abolished slavery, and intended to end racial segregation, the Southern States initiated Jim Crow Laws, which segregated African Americans in public schools, public transportation, restaurants, etc. The ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson meant that as long as facilities for both African Americans and white individuals were equal, it was constitutional. In 1954, the ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson was overturned in the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education. The Supreme Court determined that the establishment of separate schools for whites and blacks inherently unequal, and as a result unconstitutional. This ruling put an end to segregation on the basis of equal rights of protection.
These court cases however had no bearing on women's suffrage or equality. The Nineteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution legislates that neither the individual states of the United States nor its federal government may deny a citizen the right to vote because of the citizen's sex.
In recent years equal protection of citizens within the workplace has become a major issue. As a result of various amendments, citizens can not be discriminated against in work places based on terms of gender, ethnicity, race, height, or other similar differences. For example, a potential employee who is unusually short and weak can not be denied a job in a police force based upon his size.
An Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which would grant equal rights to women, has been a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution since 1972. Having failed to meet the deadline requirements for passage incorporated into the original proposed amendment, efforts to reintroduce and ratify similar amendments have come before Congress every year since 1982.
The very existence of equal rights, however, is controversial because it sets boundaries and makes clear the differences among citizens. In order to declare something as equal, there must exist a comparison to something that is unequal. In doing this, people are forced to compare equality in terms of education, wage, and many other controversial considerations.