An Intersectional Critique of Tiers of Scrutiny: Beyond “Either/Or” Approaches to Equal Protection
For the past forty years, Justice Powell’s concurring opinion in University of California v. Bakke has been at the center of scholarly debates about affirmative action. Notwithstanding the enormous attention Justice Powell’s concurrence has received, scholars have paid little attention to a passage in that opinion that expressly takes up the issue of gender. Drawing on the theory of intersectionality, this Essay explains several ways in which its reasoning is flawed. The Essay also shows how interrogating Justice Powell’s “single axis” race and gender analysis raises broader questions about tiers of scrutiny for Black women. Through a hypothetical of a university’s affirmative-action plan that specifically targets Black women, the Essay considers what tier of scrutiny should apply. Because, for the most part, scholars take a race or gender approach to equal-protection law, they have not engaged that doctrinal puzzle and its implications for tiers-of-scrutiny writ large.