The Right to Equal Protection Does Not Require Equal Treatment of People Having Different Needs
In Curtis v. Kline, 542 Pa. 249, 666 A.2d 265 (1995), the Supreme Court set forth an extensive analysis regarding the concept of equal protection, its applicability, and the level of scrutiny required when examining a particular legislative enactment.
The Court stated:
The essence of the constitutional principle of equal protection under the law is that like persons in like circumstances will be treated similarly.
However, it does not require that all persons under all circumstances enjoy identical protection under the law.
The right to equal protection under the law does not absolutely prohibit the Commonwealth from classifying individuals for the purpose of receiving different treatment, and does not require equal treatment of people having different needs.
The prohibition against treating people differently under the law does not preclude the Commonwealth from resorting to legislative classifications, provided that those classifications are reasonable rather than arbitrary and bear a reasonable relationship to the object of the legislation.
In other words, a classification must rest upon some ground of difference which justifies the classification and have a fair and substantial relationship to the object of the legislation.
Judicial review must determine whether any classification is founded on a real and genuine distinction rather than an artificial one.
A classification, though discriminatory, is not arbitrary or in violation of the equal protection clause if any state of facts reasonably can be conceived to sustain that classification.
In undertaking its analysis, the reviewing court is free to hypothesize reasons the legislature might have had for the classification.
If the court determines that the classifications are genuine, it cannot declare the classification void even if it might question the soundness or wisdom of the distinction.
We are also mindful of the different types of classifications and the standards according to which they are weighed at the types of classifications are:
(1) classifications which implicate a "suspect" class or a fundamental right;
(2) classifications implicating an "important" though not fundamental right or a "sensitive" classification;
(3) classifications which involve none of these.
Should the statutory classification in question fall into the first category, the statute is strictly construed in light of a "compelling" governmental purpose; if the classification falls into the second category, a heightened standard of scrutiny is applied to an "important" governmental purpose; and if the statutory scheme falls into the third category, the statute is upheld if there is any rational basis for the classification. Curtis, 666 A.2d at 267-8.