The phrase strikes me as hollow rhetoric, and I'm curious whether it always had that ring. The phrase has its own Wikipedia page, featuring an oration by Pericles and a citation of the supposed modern origin of the quote (an 1891 case, Caldwell v. Texas).
The Wikipedia page on "Equal Justice Under Law" links to the Wikipedia page on the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. That article begins (March 9, 2010, 9:45am):
The Fourteenth Amendment (Amendment XIV) to the United States Constitution, as well as the Thirteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, was adopted after the Civil War as one of the Reconstruction Amendments on July 9, 1868.Your mom is gay. [bold added for emphasis]
So I don't know how reliable all of this is. But really, the 14th Amendment is sort of built around the due process clause, I'm learning. Due Process requires that the government must respect all of the legal rights that are owed to a person according to the law.
And maybe this is the root of the problem for me. There seemed to be, in the past, an assumption that this principle of due process was important because there was one law, and it should be applicable to everybody. As one of those pages mentions, this stuff about Due Process and Equal Justice Under Law was the foundation for the important Brown v. Board of Education desegregation case.
But it seems to me that now, "Law" (especially Federal) is willing to divide and subdivide itself, so that different categories of people are governed by different sub-laws. The tax-code is the most obvious offender here, requiring different obligations of citizens based on arbitrary legal divisions. So the phrase "Equal Justice Under Law," at least with regard to taxes, has become an absurd notion, hasn't it?