Washington v. Davis


The DC police department had a policy of utilizing a “test 21” which measured verbal proficiency.   Two African American applicants were turned down and sued on the basis that the test discriminated against African Americans and therefore hampered their chances at seeking employment.  The case originated in Washington DC, which means the equal protection clause of the US did not apply, because it only applies to the states.  The Plaintiffs in this case had to sue under the 5th amendment due process clause instead.


Whether a policy requiring language proficiency discriminates on the basis of race such that it violates the 5th amendment.


No, the policy is constitutional and upheld; DC court of appeals decision reversed.  The court argued that the impact or outcome of the test may disproportionately disadvantage African Americans, but it did not violate due process because it lacked a discriminatory purpose.  They wrote that the court of appeals incorrectly applied “strict scrutiny” to the due process clause.  They held that to violate the due process more than discriminatory effect must be shown; discriminatory purpose needs to be proven.  The court examined the police force’s purpose for the test and found no discriminatory purpose, also citing numerous hiring policies by the force that explicitly favored the hiring of African Americans.

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