equal-field system

Chinese land-distribution system, AD 485–8th century. Borrowed by Japan in 646, it lasted about a century there. Under the system, all adults were assigned a fixed amount of land; a portion of its produce was paid as taxes. On a person's death, most of the land was returned to the government. Increases in population and a tendency for the land to come to be held permanently led to the system's collapse in China; tax-free status and additional allotments for nobles and monasteries resulted in its demise in Japan.

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In U.S. law, the constitutional guarantee that no person or group will be denied such protection under the law as is enjoyed by similar persons or groups—i.e., persons similarly situated must be treated similarly. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States prohibits states from denying any person “the equal protection of the laws.” Until the mid-20th century the requirement was applied minimally—except in some cases of racial discrimination, such as the use of literacy tests and grandfather clauses to restrict the voting rights of blacks. In Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the Supreme Court of the United States upheld “separate but equal” facilities for the races, thus sanctioning racial segregation. Beginning in the 1960s, the court under Chief Justice Earl Warren dramatically expanded the concept, applying it to cases involving welfare benefits, exclusionary zoning, municipal services, and school financing. During the tenure of Chief Justices Warren E. Burger and William H. Rehnquist, the court continued to add to the types of cases that might be adjudicated under equal protection, including cases involving sexual discrimination, the status and rights of aliens, abortion rights, and access to the courts.

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Proposed but unratified amendment to the U.S. Constitution designed mainly to invalidate many state and federal laws that discriminated against women. Its central tenet was that sex should not be a determining factor in establishing the legal rights of individuals. It was first introduced in Congress in 1923, shortly after women obtained the right to vote. It was finally approved by the U.S. Senate 49 years later (1972) but was subsequently ratified by only 30 of the 50 state legislatures. Critics claimed it would cause women to lose privileges and protections, such as exemption from compulsory military service and economic support by their husbands. Supporters, led by the National Organization for Women, argued that discriminatory state and federal laws left many women in a state of economic dependency.

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Equal commonly refers to a state of equality.

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