The Law School Authority

Washington v. Davis Case Brief

Summary of Washington v. Davis (1976)

Relevant Facts: African-American applicants to the D.C. Police Dep’t allege a written test is discriminatory in nature.  They bring suit alleging a violation of civil rights laws and on the EPC of the Constitution, since at the time there was no Title VII.

Issue: Under constitutional law, does an employment examination which is said to discriminate not on its face but in its inherent results, violate the Equal Protection Clause?

Holding: No.  The Court decided not to address this issue without Congressional legislation to this effect.

Court’s Rationale/Reasoning: Central purpose of the EPC is the prevention of official conduct discriminating on the basis of race.  Thus far, the Court had not addressed a situation where the result is racially disproportionate, instead of discriminatory on its face.  The test the Court has generally gone by is to see if there is an intentional state action.  Here, the evidence is inconclusive.  As long as the ends served the means, a statute could pass muster.

The test itself requires that applicants acquire a certain verbal score, which is not unconstitutional.  Other evidence of the department showed a move to recruit more black officers as well as the changing proportion of races in the force.  The court has used a “disproportionate impact test” to see whether or not a facially neutral statute or law is discriminates, but this occurs when there is compelling justification.  Repealing a test b/c of a disproportionate result without compelling justification could effect many other things.

Rule: A test that cannot be proven to be discriminatory on its face is not unconstitutional, unless Congress rules otherwise.

Important Dicta:  N/A

Dissenting:  Justices Brennan, Marshall dissented on the statutory issue, but did not address the Court’s constitutional holding.

Concurring: (Justice Stevens): The line between discriminatory purpose and discriminatory impact is not nearly as bright.  The disproportionateness of an act should be the analysis as to the extent of a statute’s discriminatory intent.



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