Rational Basis Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Rational Basis, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Rational Basis?

(n) A law, order, action etc is said to be executed in a rational basis when it is tested for the constitutionality and when it achieves the legitimate objectives of the constitution and society.

History and Meaning of Rational Basis

The term "rational basis" is commonly used in the context of constitutional law to determine the constitutionality of a law, order, or action. It refers to a standard of judicial review where the court examines the law or action in question to see if it is "rationally related" to a legitimate government interest. This standard is often applied in cases where a fundamental right is not at stake.

In practice, when a court applies a rational basis test, it presumes the law or action is constitutional and upholds it unless the challenger can prove that it is not rationally related to a legitimate government interest. This makes it easier for the government to justify its actions, especially in cases where there is no clear violation of a constitutional right.

Examples of Rational Basis

  1. A state law that requires a license for certain occupations to ensure public safety is considered to have a rational basis.

  2. The government's decision to require vaccinations for school children is said to have a rational basis because it is necessary to protect public health.

  3. A city ordinance that restricts the height of buildings in certain areas to maintain the character of the neighborhood is likely to be upheld under rational basis review.

  4. An economic regulation, such as a tax on cigarettes or alcohol, is often found to have a rational basis because it serves a legitimate government interest.

Legal Terms Similar to Rational Basis

  1. Strict scrutiny - a more stringent form of judicial review used when a fundamental right or suspect class is at stake.

  2. Intermediate scrutiny - a level of review that is applied in cases that involve restrictions on gender or illegitimacy.

  3. Deferential review - a standard of review where the court gives significant deference to the government's judgment.

  4. Arbitrary and capricious - a legal standard used in administrative law to determine whether an agency action is valid.

  5. Equal protection - a constitutional principle that requires the government to treat people equally under the law.