Discrimination scholars have traditionally justified antidiscrimination laws by appealing to the value of equality. Egalitarian theories locate the moral wrong of discrimination in the unfavorable treatment one individual receives as compared to another. However, discrimination theory has neglected to engage seriously with the socio-legal category of age, which poses a challenge to this egalitarian consensus due to its unique temporal character. Unlike other identity categories, an individual’s age inevitably changes over time. Consequently, any age-based legal rule will ultimately yield equal treatment over the lifecourse. This explains the weak constitutional protection for age and the fact that age-based legal rules are commonplace, determining everything from access to health care to criminal sentences to voting rights. The central claim of this Article is that equality can neither adequately describe the moral wrong of age discrimination nor justify the current landscape of statutory age discrimination law. The wrong of age discrimination lies not in a comparison, but instead in the deprivation of some intrinsic interest that extends throughout the lifecourse. Thus, we must turn to non-comparative values, such as liberty or dignity, to flesh out the theoretical foundation of age discrimination law. Exploring this alternative normative foundation generates valuable insights for current debates in discrimination theory and the legal regulation of age.
Boni-Saenz, Alexander Antonio, Age, Time, and Discrimination (November 1, 2018). Georgia Law Review, volume 53, 2019 forthcoming.