one.55 Equality under the law is enshrined in the U.S. Declaration of Independence,
56 the U.S.
57 decades of case law, and numerous treaties, including the United Nations Universal
Declaration of Human Rights.
58 Under this theory, everyone—including youth59—must be treated
equally under the law regardless of their race, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, or other
characteristics, without privilege, discrimination, or bias.
60 The U.S. Fair Sentencing Act (FSA),
which was passed by Congress in 2010, reduced the sentencing disparity between punishment for
certain drug-related offenses that have traditionally had a disproportionate effect on minority
groups, explicitly for that reason.
61 Additionally, the 1974 federal Juvenile Justice and
Delinquency Prevention Act (OJJDPA), most recently re-authorized in 2002, applies to all states
and “creates a federal-state partnership for the administration of juvenile justice and delinquency
prevention in the United States, and also recognizes this issue. Through this legislation, the
government—through the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP)—
provides funding to states that follow a series of federal protections, known as the "core
protections," on the care and treatment of youth in the justice system.
62 One of these “core
requirements” is a focus on Disparate Minority Contact.
63 As a leading youth organization
Under the DMC requirement, states must assess and address the disproportionate contact
of youth of color at key decision points in the juvenile justice system. In the last
55In 431 BC, the Athenian leader Pericles famously stated, "if we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in
their private differences; if no 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." THUCYDIDES, THE
LANDMARK THUC YDIDES: A COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE TO THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR 1 (Robert B. Strassler and Richard
56THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE para. 2 (U.S.1776) (declaring that "All men are created equal.”).
57While the word "equality" does not appear anywhere in the Constitution, the 14th Amendment guarantees "equal
protection of the laws." U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1.
58Article 7 states, "all are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the
law.” G.A. Res. 217 (III) A, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Dec. 10, 1948).
59Courts have established that youth are categorically different from adults, but this concept applies to everyone.
Human rights are youth rights. See, e.g., Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 1, 14-21 (2005)(providing an example of
how youth are different and that this difference should be taken into account, via providing three general differences
between juveniles under eighteen and adults that demonstrate why juvenile offenders cannot with reliability be
classified among the worst offenders under Eighth Amendment analysis. In this case, the Court set forth a categorical
rule that imposing the death penalty on a juvenile violates the Eighth Amendment, reasoning that juveniles are less
culpable than adults, more susceptible to peer pressure and negative influences than adults, and have not fully
developed their character yet); Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010)(addressing whether the Eighth Amendment
ban on cruel and unusual punishment prohibits sentencing a juvenile convicted of a non-homicide offense to life
imprisonment without the possibility of parole).
60Universal Declaration of Human Rights supra note 56, at Art. 2; Within Our Reach: Gender, Racial and Ethnic
Equality in the Courts, THE ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE OF THE TRIAL COURT AND THE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT OF
1 (Feb. 4, 2004), http://www.mass.gov/courts/court-info/sjc/about/court-mgt-admin/withinourreach.pdf (defining equality as treating others with respect, regardless of specific traits). But see Peter
Westen, The Empty Idea of Equality, 95 HARV. L. REV. 537-96 (1982) (arguing that equality is an empty notion
because it is derived from external criteria and once labeled as furthering equality, whether or not it deserves that
pinnacle, it cannot be opposed; opposing it would be opposing equality itself).
61The Fair Sentencing Act, AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION, https://www.aclu.org/node/17576 (last visited Apr.
62JJDPA, supra note 8.