Washington v. Davis
426 U.S. 229 (1976)

  • In order to be hired as a police officer in Washington DC, applicants had to pass a test that was “designed to test verbal ability, vocabulary, reading, and comprehension.”
    • Test data showed that African-American applicants failed the test at a much higher rate than white applicants.
  • Two rejected African-American applicants sued, claiming that the test was racially discriminatory and therefore a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
  • The US Supreme Court found that the test was not a violation of the Equal Protection Clause.
    • The US Supreme Court acknowledged that the test did fail a disproportionate number of minority applicants.
    • However, the Court found that in addition to showing a disproportionate impact, there must also be a showing that there was a discriminatory motive on the State actor’s part.
      • “Disproportionate impact is not irrelevant, but it is not the sole touchstone of an invidious racial discrimination forbidden by the Constitution.”
      • The Court noted that the city was actively trying to recruit African-Americans into the police force, and there was no evidence of a discriminatory motive.
  • The basic rule illustrated by this case is that in order to be a violation of the Equal Protection Clause, racial discrimination by the State must contain two elements:
    • A racially disproportionate impact and
    • Discriminatory motivation on the part of the state actor.