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Washington v. Davis

Citation. 426 U.S. 229, 96 S.Ct. 2040, 48 L.Ed.2d 597 (1976).
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Citation. 426 U.S. 229, 96 S.Ct. 2040, 48 L.Ed.2d 597 (1976).

Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiffs challenge the validity of a qualifying test administered to applicants of the police department after failing the test, alleging the test disproportionately affected Black candidates.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Laws that discriminate in effect, but are not adopted for a discriminatory purpose, are constitutionally valid.


Those seeking admission to the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department had to past a test known as “Test 21.” Test 21 was developed by the Civil Service Commission, not the police department, and was designed to assess verbal, vocabulary, reading, and comprehension skills.

Plaintiffs challenged the test under the Due Process Clause of the 5th Amendment, alleging the test violated Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights. Evidence showed roughly four times as many Black candidates failed the exam.


Whether the test violates the Due Process Clause of the 5th Amendment.


No. The test does not violate the Due Process Clause of the 5th Amendment.


Justice Stevens

The line between discriminatory purpose and discriminatory intent is not nearly as bright, or as critical, as the Court suggests.

While I agree a constitutional issue does not arise every time some disproportionate impact is shown, I am not yet prepared to indicate how a standard should be applied in other cases.


Precedent demonstrates the invidious quality of a law claimed to be racially discriminatory must ultimately be traced to a racially discriminatory purpose.

Here, Test 21 is neural on its face and is rationally related to serve ends otherwise within the power of the government to pursue. Disproportionate impact is not irrelevant, but it snot the sole touchstone of an invidious racial discrimination. Standing alone, it does not trigger the strictest scrutiny. Judgement reversed.

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