Prejudice meaning in law

Prejudice is an unjustified attitude or opinion, usually a negative one, directed toward an individual for something the individual cannot control. An example of prejudice is someone thinking poorly of another person for his belonging to a certain race, or for having different religious beliefs. Prejudice is different from discrimination, which refers to taking action based on a prejudice. It is possible for a person to have a prejudice against someone without ever acting on it. To explore this concept, consider the following prejudice definition.

Definition of Prejudice


  1. A preconceived, unreasonable idea or feeling, especially a hostile one, with regard to a particular ethnic, racial, social, or religious group.
  2. An instance of adverse opinion considered collectively.


  1. To prejudice, prejudicing.

Law Idiom

  1. To take an action without dismissing, damaging, or having an otherwise detrimental effect on a legal interest.


1250-1300       Middle English < Latin praejūdicium (previous judicial inquiry, or prior judgment)

What is Prejudice

Prejudice is a baseless and typically negative attitude that an individual can hold toward someone else, or toward the members of a certain group. Prejudiced attitudes are marked by negative feelings toward someone, are often based on stereotypes, such as a belief that “all black people are unemployed criminals,” or “all Mexican people are illegal aliens and thieves.”

These feelings may be translated into action by discriminating against the person or members of the target group. An individual may be prejudiced against others based on factors such as race, age, gender, sexual orientation, class status, religion, and nationality, amongst other things.

Some of the more common prejudice examples include:

  • Racism
  • Sexism
  • Homophobia
  • Religious prejudice
  • Ageism
  • Nationalism
  • Classicism

Prejudice under the Law

Prejudice under the law is similar to the more common definition of prejudice in that it refers to a preconceived judgment, bias, or opinion being held regarding the parties to or the facts involved in a case. Court cases are all about picking a side, since the judge and jury are tasked with deciding whether to rule in favor of the plaintiff or the defendant. Prejudice under the law occurs when false or damaging information is communicated to the judge or jury, causing them to then form an opinion that is not rooted in fact.

A decision that is made in the face of prejudice under the law can have a significant effect on an appellant’s legal rights. It is in these cases that appellants have grounds for an argument to reverse the judgment, as well as for the granting of a new trial.

Dismissal with Prejudice

A dismissal with prejudice in a lawsuit means that the case cannot be re-litigated in the future. This is because the court has heard the case and has entered a judgement stating that the case has been dismissed after proper consideration of its merits. When a case is dismissed with prejudice, that is the Court’s way of saying that a final judgment has been made. When a dismissal with prejudice is issued, the case then becomes res judicata on the claims that were brought in the lawsuit or other legal action, as well as on any future claims that could have been brought in relation to the underlying matter.

Dismissal without Prejudice

A dismissal without prejudice of a lawsuit means that a new lawsuit can be filed again in the future, on the same grounds as those considered in the original lawsuit. This is because no decision was ever reached on the merits of the case. A dismissal without prejudice may be issued if the judge decides that the case cannot go forward for some legal reason. Effectively, the subject of the litigation remains just as open in a subsequent suit, as it would have if the original suit was never brought at all. It’s like the original suit never existed.

The words “dismissed without prejudice” are used in a judgment or order upon the dismissal of a suit or motion as a way of protecting the plaintiff. Without this protection, the defendant could claim that the case had already been heard, and that it could not therefore be litigated again.

Extreme Prejudice Examples

In military operations, or other covert operations, to act with “extreme prejudice” means to assassinate someone. The meaning of the term was initially brought to public light in reports of an incident during the Vietnam War known as the Green Beret Affair. The term gained cultural popularity after being used in the film Apocalypse Now.

In the book A Murder in Wartime: The Untold Spy Story That Changed the Course of the Vietnam War by Jeff Stein, Stein details the events of the Green Beret Affair. Basically, in June of 1969 a group of Green Beret Officers believed that one of their Vietnamese officers, Thai Khac Chuyen, was a double agent. So they “acted with extreme prejudice” by executing him. They disposed of his body by putting weights on it and dropping it into the ocean off of Nha Trang. Two Army detectives investigated the incident and arrested those responsible, who were then brought to a hearing to determine whether or not they would face court-martial.

Capt. Robert Marasco, who admitted that he was the one to shot Chuyen , defended the actions of the group, saying that terminating Chuyen with extreme prejudice was no different than killing a member of the Vietcong during a search-and-destroy mission.

When the media got wind of the case, most Americans saw the arrests as high-level politics at work. Ultimately, the Army dropped the charges, but the Green Beret Affair had a lasting impact on the public’s view of the Vietnam War, by inspiring former U.S. military analyst Daniel Ellsberg to leak the Pentagon Papers, a secret study conducted by the Department of Defense, which detailed the United States’ political and military involvement in Vietnam during the period of 1945 to 1967.

Prejudice and Discrimination

Mentioned earlier, prejudice and discrimination differ in that while one (prejudice) is a feeling or idea, the other (discrimination) is an action or behavior that is carried out with that idea or feeling in mind. Prejudice and discrimination can take many ugly forms, such as an individual using a racial slur to refer to someone of a different nationality, denying someone a promotion because of his sexual orientation, damaging someone’s property because of his or her sexuality, or even firing a woman upon learning of her pregnancy. Unfortunately, this list is a small example of prejudice and discrimination that exist.

Here are a few of the more common examples of prejudice and discrimination that can, and do, occur regularly in the workplace, according to the U.S.   Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”).

  • National Origin – National origin discrimination targets people from a certain country; because of their ethnicity or accent, or because they look like they come from a certain ethnic background, whether they do or not. People who are married to, or associate with, someone of a particular national origin may also be discriminated against.
  • Equal Pay/Compensation – This one has been hotly debated as of late. The
  • Age – Age discrimination occurs when someone is hired, fired, paid, promoted, laid off, or is impacted by some other work-related action, based solely on his or her age.
  • Sex – The same conditions involved in age discrimination apply to sex-based discrimination. Sex discrimination is discrimination against someone based on whether they are male or female.
  • Retaliation – It is illegal for a company to retaliate against an employee or applicant because he or she complained to a supervisor, or filed a charge against the company claiming discrimination. This includes firing, demoting, harassing, and other negative actions.
  • Race – Race discrimination involves treating someone poorly due to his race, or because he has personal traits that are often associated with a particular race. These may include hair texture, skin color, facial features, or other traits. Race discrimination can also be applied to situations in which someone is treated poorly because he or she is married to, or associates with, a person of a particular race or color.

Prejudice Example in U.S. History

Every once in a while, Supreme Court decisions are entered that are nothing short of infuriating because they serve to uphold the very prejudices that others work so hard to abolish. An example of prejudice in a Supreme Court case can be found in the 1943 case of Hirabayashi v. United States.

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, President Roosevelt issued a number of executive orders, which were fast-tracked to being enacted as law, for the purpose of preventing any potential rebellion or espionage from those of Japanese descent who were living in the United States at that time. One order gave the Secretary of War permission to designate certain parts of the country as “military areas,” which served to keep certain people out of those areas, regardless of their country of origin or citizenship status. This seriously impacted the rights of those Japanese people who were living on American soil. Curfews were then imposed on Japanese Americans, as well as Japanese resident aliens.

The other executive order led to the creation of the internment camps by establishing the War Relocation Authority, which was empowered to remove, confine, and supervise the Japanese from these “military areas.” Gordon Kiyoshi Hirabayashi, a Japanese American student attending the University of Washington, first violated the curfew, then made it clear he would violate the relocation order.

The question here was whether or not the President’s executive orders, as well as the power he delegated to authorities in the military, which clearly furthered the attitude of prejudice against Japanese people, discriminated against those of Japanese descent, and violated the Fifth Amendment. The Court held that the President’s orders, including the implementation of the curfew, were constitutional, as the President and Congress, acting together as they did, had the authority to implement these measures as an emergency of war.

Chief Justice Stone wrote on behalf of a unanimous Court, and he reasoned that the restrictions imposed upon individuals of Japanese descent were formed in the country’s best interests. The Court neglected to address the more discriminatory relocation issue and focused on the curfew only, which the Court saw as a necessary “protective measure.” Stone argued that, in times of war, racial discrimination was justified, as, in his words, “having ethnic affiliations with an invading enemy may be a greater source of danger than those of a different ancestry.”

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Court-Martial – A judicial court established to try those members of the armed services who have been accused of committing offenses against military law.
  • Executive Order – An order made by a U.S. President, or a government agency, that has the same force of law.
  • Res Judicata – A matter that has been decided upon by a court of law, and therefore may not be litigated any further by the parties involved.