The constitutional command for a state to afford "equal protection of the laws" sets a goal not attainable by the invention and application of a precise formula. A law which affects the activities of some groups differently from the way in which it affects the activities of other groups is not necessarily banned by the Fourteenth Amendment. Otherwise, effective regulation in the public interest could not be provided, however essential that regulation might be. For it is axiomatic that the consequence of regulating by setting apart a classified group is that those in it will be subject to some restrictions or receive certain advantages that do not apply to other groups or to all the public. This selective application of a regulation is discrimination in the broad sense, but it may or may not deny equal protection of the laws. Clearly, it might offend that constitutional safeguard if it rested on grounds wholly irrelevant to achievement of the regulation's objectives. An example would be a law applied to deny a person a right to earn a living or hold any job because of hostility to his particular race, religion, beliefs, or because of any other reason having no rational relation to the regulated activities.
Appellant pilots sought review of a decision by which the Supreme Court affirmed a trial court judgment dismissing an action by which they challenged the constitutionally of the pilotage law. The pilots claimed that provisions deprived them of equal protection and of the right to earn a living because they gave incumbent pilots unfettered discretion to appoint apprentice pilots. The pilots possessed all of the qualifications required to be licensed river pilots except that they had not served apprenticeships under incumbent Louisiana officer pilots as was required by law. The pilots, who had been denied apprenticeships, claimed that their equal protection rights were violated by the pilotage laws because incumbent pilots had unfettered discretion in the appointment of apprentices and the incumbents only selected their relatives and friends. The court affirmed.
Did pilotage laws allowing boat pilots unfettered discretion in awarding apprenticeships violate the Equal Protection Clause by allowing nepotism?
The Court held that although the pilotage laws allowed nepotism, they did not violate the Equal Protection Clause. The court reasoned that the method adopted under the pilotage laws for selecting pilots was related to the state's object of securing the safest and most efficiently operated pilotage system possible. The Court noted that there were advantages to allowing the incumbent pilot officers to select those with whom they would serve.
The Court affirmed.