Volume 88, Number 5

November 2013

Unscrambling the Egg: Social Constructionism and the Antireification Principle in Constitutional Law

Natasha J. Silber

Since the mid-twentieth century, the Court’s developing view on the social construction of identity has driven some of the most fundamental changes in modern equal protection jurisprudence. One of these transformations has been the development of what I call the “antireification principle” in the Court’s affirmative action cases. Under this principle, an important function of constitutional law is to regulate social meaning in accordance with the view that social categories like race are mere constructs. Guided by the antireification norm, the Court has used judicial review to block state action that, in its estimation, treats false constructs as real, important, or enduring. The Court, however, has been highly selective in its application of the principle outside of the race context. Where gender and sexuality are at issue, the Court has been more than willing to cast existing categories as real and even celebrate them.

This Note describes and questions the Court’s selective use of antireification, suggesting that there is no reason, per se, why antireification could not further the goal of social equality in the realms of gender and sexuality. By denying their bases in reality, the Court could—according to the logic of antireification destabilize all such identity constructs and decrease the harms they cause. This Note proceeds to hypothesize a set of explanations for the Court’s selective application of the principle, but ultimately finds each unsatisfying. Finally, it suggests that selective deployment of antireification is symptomatic of inherent contradictions embedded in the structure of contemporary equal protection doctrine, which relies upon fixed identity categories at the same time that it seeks to destroy them.