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The term "minority" typically refers to a group of people who have certain characteristics or attributes, immutable or not, that distinguish them from the majority of the population. These characteristics can include race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or any other protected characteristic recognized by law. 

Through judicial review, minorities, specifically “discrete and insular” minorities, are afforded extra protection under the law following the 1938 case of United States v. Carolene Products Co. The case is most famous for a footnote written by Associate Justice Harlan F. Stone, now often referred to simply as ‘Footnote 4’,  which states that courts would exercise a stricter standard of review when a law appears on its face to violate a provision of the United States Constitution, restricts the political process in a way that could impede the repeal of an undesirable law, or discriminates against "discrete and insular" minorities. This footnote formed the basis of the idea that any statute, regulation, or other state action that discriminates against minorities will be given a stricter form of judicial review by the reviewing court, known as strict scrutiny.

In the United States and other countries across the world, protective measures have also been enacted—many of which are controversial—to protect the rights of minority groups and ensure that they are not unfairly treated or disadvantaged due to their minority status. These protections may include anti-discrimination laws, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, affirmative action policies, and measures to promote equal access to opportunities and resources. Controversy arises from the fact that many people believe that legislation or other state action designed specifically to benefit minorities, such as university affirmative action policies, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

In the 2023 landmark case of Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, the Supreme Court effectively ruled affirmative action unconstitutional for this very reason. Although state action to remedy past discrimination was still viewed as a compelling interest which might overcome the Equal Protection Clause, the Court found that race-based university admissions that favored minorities solely by dint of their skin color was not sufficiently narrowly tailored to that purpose to survive strict scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause.

[Last updated in July of 2023 by the Wex Definitions Team]