Rational Basis Test 101

The rational basis test is a judicial review test used to ascertain whether a particular governmental regulation or law goes against the equal protection clause. This particular test is most often used compared to the other judicial tests, especially when economic regulations are being reviewed. The rational basis test is actually the easiest test that the government has to undergo. In this test, the plaintiff has to prove that the law doesn’t relate to a legit government interest. Once this test is being applied during a case, there’s a very high chance that the government will win.

What Are the Requirements of the Test?

Courts usually use this test when neither a ‘suspect class’ nor a fundamental right is involved. In other words, no one involved is claiming that a fundamental right is in peril or that someone is experiencing discrimination because of their religion or race. In order to pass the rational basis test, the ordinance must have a valid state interest. Not only that, a rational connection must be established between the ordinance’s goals.

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Are There Other Judicial Review Tests?

There are actually two other judicial review tests that come after the rational basis test: the intermediate scrutiny test and the strict scrutiny test. We’ll explain both in more detail below.

Intermediate Scrutiny

The next judicial test, as mentioned, is the intermediate scrutiny test, and it serves as more of a challenge for the government compared to the rational basis test. Still, it’s used in courts to ascertain whether a statute is constitutional. In some cases, there will be some times when courts refer to the intermediate scrutiny test as “heightened security” or sometimes “rational basis with a bite.”

When Is This Test Applied?

The intermediate scrutiny test was first applied during the Craig v. Boren case. This test is often used if or when the government or states passes a statute that interferes with someone’s rights. One example is certain Second Amendment cases, wherein someone’s right to bear arms is limited, but not by too much. Other times where this test has been applied include cases where commercial speech is limited by the government or cases involving gender discrimination.

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Strict Scrutiny

The last judicial review is known as the strict scrutiny test, and as you may have inferred, this is the most challenging for the government out of all three tests because it’s the highest standard of review.

When Is This Test Applied?

This test is typically used when a plaintiff is suing the government for discrimination. In this case, it could be discrimination due to gender or race. Sometimes, the strict scrutiny test may also be put into use when someone’s core rights are being denied, e.g., the right to vote.


Were we able to thoroughly explain the rational basis test (and the other judicial tests)? These are important concepts to know about, especially if you’re interested in learning how our legal system works.