Brief Fact Summary.
African-American applicants to the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department brought suit after being rejected for failing the written test. The applicants claimed the equal protection alleging that a higher percentage of African Americans than whites failed the test.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
The central purpose of equal protection is to prevent official conduct discriminating on the basis of race.
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.View Full Point of Law
African-American applicants to the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department brought suit after being rejected for failing the written test. 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.
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?
No, because the rejection by the police department for failing the written test was not based on a racially discriminatory purpose. No precedents tell that an official act or law is unconstitutional solely because it has a racially discriminatory purpose without regard to whether it reflects a racially discriminatory purpose.
When the disproportionate impact of an alleged 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.
The necessary discriminatory racial purpose need not be express or appear on the face of an official act or a statute nor is it true that a law’s disproportionate impact is irrelevant. The test at issue, however, seeks to ascertain whether the applicants have acquired a particular level of skills and the Constitution does not prevent the government from seeking to upgrade the abilities of its employees rather than to be satisfied with lower level of competence. The fact that other blacks failed the test does not demonstrate that respondents individually were being denied equal protection.