De jure discrimination is discrimination that is codified and enforced by law. It is often contrasted to the de facto discrimination, which happens regardless of the law. The de jure discrimination can be malicious and unfairly targeted at specific groups, such as Jim Crow laws or apartheid.


‘De jure’ literally means ‘by law.’ This Latin expression is used to signify that something is real according to state legislation and court cases. It is often used to contrast something that happens regardless of this law when it is impossible to enforce. For example, in some countries, the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression, while in actuality, people are prohibited from saying certain things.

The situation with de jure discrimination, however, is not like that. Often the discriminatory laws are followed and enforced very well. A prominent example of such discriminatory laws would be slavery and the subsequent racial segregation in the US. These laws are also known as Jim Crow laws, and they prohibited non-white Americans to use the same facilities as whites, attend the same schools, and live in the same districts. The racial segregation created the environment in which non-whites had significantly fewer rights and legal protections than whites, which led to them being targeted with impunity, robbed, and even killed. The de jure discrimination transitioned seamlessly into de facto discrimination, some of which persisted even after the Civil Rights Movement. Another example of de jure discrimination is the South African Apartheid, which resulted in similar racial segregation. It resulted in arbitrary races assigned to mixed-race children and families being separated because of enforced living arrangements. It also created the same conditions for de facto violence aimed at non-white Africans. An example of de jure discrimination that is not motivated by race is the Saudi fatwa that prohibited women from driving.

A man fixes a tablet. An example of racial de jure discrimination.