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Washington v. Davis

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Brief Fact Summary.

Respondents argue that the district of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department’s recruiting procedures discriminated on the basis of race against black applicants by a serious of practices.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

It is not necessary that discriminatory racial purpose be express or appear on the face of the statute to violate the Equal Protection Clause. A statute, otherwise neutral on its face, must not be applied so as invidiously to discriminate on the basis of race.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

Justice Stevens in his concurring opinion noted with approval, when the disproportionate impact is as dramatic as in Gomillion, it really does not matter whether the standard is phrased in terms of purpose or effect.

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Facts.

African-American applicants to the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department brought suit after being rejected for failing the written test. To be accepted by the Department, the police recruit was required to satisfy certain physical and character standards and to receive a grade of at least 40 out of 80 on “Test 21,” which is an examination that is used generally throughout the federal service, and which was designed to test verbal ability, reading and comprehension. The examination was generally used throughout the Nation. The district court found that a higher percentage of African Americans than whites failed the test but denied relief finding that the test was reasonably related to the requirements of the police recruit program. The court of appeals found the lack of discriminatory intent regarding the test irrelevant and emphasized its disproportionate impact holding that such impact alone is sufficient to constitute a violation.

Issue.

Does the written test for police recruit program, where a higher percentage of African Americans than whites had failed the test, violate the equal protection?

Held.

No, it is difficult to understand how a law establishing a racially neutral qualification for employment is nevertheless racially discriminatory and denies any person equal protection of the laws simply because a greater proportion of Negroes fail to qualify than members of other racial or ethnic groups.

Concurrence.

Justice Stevens

The line between discriminatory purpose and discriminatory impact is not always clear. However, when the disproportionate impact of a statute is dramatic, it does not matter whether the standard was created without any invidious racial purpose. This is the case here. The test also serves uniform standard of literacy and the same test is used throughout the country. The applicants at the D.C Police Department represent only a small fraction of the total number of persons who have taken the test and their experience is of minimal probative value in assessing the neutrality of the test.

Discussion.

The test, which is administered generally to prospective Government employees, seeks to ascertain whether those who take it have acquired a particular level of verbal skill; and it is untenable that the Constitution prevents the Government from seeking modestly to upgrade the communicative abilities of its employees rather than to be satisfied with some lower level of competence, particularly when the job requires special ability to communicate orally and in writing. Respondents, as Negroes, could no more successfully claim that the test denied them equal protection than could white applicants who also failed. The conclusion would not be different in the face of proof that more Negroes than whites had been disqualified by the test. That other Negroes also failed to score well would, alone, not demonstrate that respondents individually were being denied equal protection of laws by the application of an otherwise valid qualifying test being administered to prospective police recruits.


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