The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that no state can deny any person within its jurisdiction equal protection of the law. In addition, the Fifth Amendment states that no person can be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process. In addition to these Constitutional guarantees, there are also several federal and state laws that prohibit discrimination in various settings. The most notable of these are:

The Civil Rights Act of 1964: Prohibits discrimination in areas of education, employment, access to public businesses, and federal services.

Voting Rights Act: Prohibits discriminatory voter restrictions and registration practices.

Equal Credit Opportunity Act: Prohibits discrimination in loan applications, mortgage processing, and other credit transactions.

Fair Housing Act: Prohibits discrimination in housing sales and rental decisions.

However, "discrimination" can be a vague term, and "equal protection" does not necessarily always mean "equal treatment". There are many circumstances where the government may have a legitimate reason to treat different classes of people differently, and civil rights law has evolved standards of "scrutiny" to account for this. Whenever the government enacts a law or policy that treats different classes of people differently, the judicial system determines its validity by using levels of scrutiny that change depending on the classification of person being singled out. For instance, laws that treat people differently based on their wealth, handicap, or age, are subject to "rational basis" review. This means that the government can treat these people differently so long as the policy is "rationally related to a legitimate government interest". In contrast, laws that treat people differently based on race or religion, or infringe on certain fundamental rights are much more suspect, and are therefore reviewed using a "strict scrutiny" standard. This means that the classification will only be constitutional if it "necessary to a compelling government interest". Adding to this, Courts have ruled that the standard is only satisfied when the law is absolutely necessary to accomplish a compelling (desirable or important is not enough) interest, is has been "narrowly tailored" to accomplish only that goal, and no less restrictive means exist.