Equality before the law, also known as equality under the law, equality in the eyes of the law, or legal equality, is the principle under which all people are subject to the same laws of justice (due process). Law also raises important and complex issues concerning equality, fairness, and justice. There is an old saying that 'All are equal before the law.' The author Anatole France said in 1894, "In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets, and steal loaves of bread." The belief in equality before the law is called legal egalitarianism.
Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that "All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law."
Thus, everyone must be treated equally under the law regardless of race, gender, national origin, color, ethnicity, religion, disability, or other characteristics, without privilege, discrimination, or bias. The general guarantee of equality is provided by most of the world's national constitutions (read the provisions here), but the specifics vary widely. For example, while many constitutions guarantee equality regardless of race (read the provisions here), only a few mention the right to equality regardless of nationality (read the provisions here).
Equality before the law is one of the basic principles of liberalism.
The 431 BCE funeral oration of Pericles, recorded in Thucydides's History of the Peloponnesian War, includes a passage praising the equality among the free male citizens of the Athenian democracy:
If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in their private differences; if to social standing, advancement in public life falls to reputation for capacity, class considerations not being allowed to interfere with merit; nor again does poverty bar the way
More common in antiquity was violent repression of even basic equality. Despite the recent overthrow of the Roman monarchy and the establishment of the Roman Republic and sacrosanct tribunes of the plebs, Cincinnatus's son Caeso led a gang that chased plebs from the forum to prevent the creation of equitable written laws. In Rome's case, the organization of the plebs and the patricians' dependence upon them as both laborers and soldiers meant the Conflict of the Orders was resolved by the establishment of the Twelve Tables and greater equality. Notionally, all citizens except the emperor were equal under Roman law in the imperial period. However, this did not obtain throughout most of the world and, even in Europe, the rise of aristocracies and nobility created unequal legal systems that lasted into the modern era.
Classical liberalism calls for equality before the law for all persons. Classical liberalism, as embraced by libertarians and modern conservatives, opposes pursuing group rights at the expense of individual rights. Lockean liberalism (the foundation for classical liberalism) is interpreted by others, however, as including social rights and responsibilities.
Equality before the law is a tenet of some branches of feminism. In the nineteenth century, gender equality before the law was a radical goal, but later feminist views may hold that formal legal equality is not enough to create actual and social equality between women and men. An ideal of formal equality may penalize women for failing to conform to a male norm, while an ideal of different treatment may reinforce sexist stereotypes.
In 1988, prior to serving as a Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote: "Generalizations about the way women or men are ... cannot guide me reliably in making decisions about particular individuals". In an ACLU's Women's Rights Project in the 1970s Ginsburg challenged, in Frontiero v. Richardson, the laws that gave health service benefits to wives of servicemen but not to husbands of servicewomen.There are over 150 national constitutions that currently mention equality regardless of gender (click here to explore the provisions).
Some radical feminists, however, have opposed equality before the law, because they think that it maintains the weak position of the weak........
The phrase "Equality before the law" is the motto of the State of Nebraska and appears on its state seal.
Article 200 of the Criminal Code of Japan, the penalty regarding parricide, was declared unconstitutional for violating the equality under the law by the Supreme Court of Japan in 1973, as a result of the trial of the Tochigi patricide case.