Document Type



Legal actors examine identity claims with varying degrees of intensity. For instance, to be considered “female” for the U.S. Census, self-identification alone is sufficient, and no additional evidence is necessary. To change a sex marker on a birth certificate to “female,” however, self-identification is not enough; some states require people to show that they do not have a penis to be considered “female.” Similar examples of discrepancies in the type and amount of evidence considered for identity claims abound across identities and areas of law. Yet legal actors rarely acknowledge that they are adjudicating identity in the first place, much less explain or justify the varying levels of scrutiny exacted upon identity claims. This Article attempts to make sense of identity adjudication by providing a taxonomy that explains why some identity claims are interrogated more than others. Taking a broad view of identity adjudication, it examines three types of laws (data-collection, anti-discrimination, and benefit laws) as well as four identity categories (religion, sexual orientation, sex, and race) and concludes that both the type of law at issue and the identity category affect how an identity claim is adjudicated. It then argues that across identities and types of laws, legal actors are often adjudicating identity without proper attention to the particular legal context and examining the wrong type of identity evidence in light of the specific law at issue. This context-detached approach to identity adjudication produces inconsistent and incoherent results; it can also impinge on privacy interests and reinforce problematic stereotypes. This Article calls for a context-informed approach to identity adjudication, where the question of identity is linked to the function of the specific law rather than treated as an independent and stable “truth” about an individual.



First Page


Last Page




To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.