Washington v. Davis

LOCATION:Metropolitan Police Department

DOCKET NO.: 74-1492
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 426 US 229 (1976)
ARGUED: Mar 01, 1976
DECIDED: Jun 07, 1976

David P. Sutton – Argued the cause for the petitioners
Mark L. Evans – Argued the cause for the US Civil Service Commission as respondents under Rule 21 (4)
Richard B. Sobol – Argued the cause for the respondents Harley et al

Facts of the case

After the applications of two blacks were rejected by the District of Columbia Police Department, the two men filed suit against Mayor Walter E. Washington. The men alleged that the Department’s recruiting procedures, including a written personnel test, discriminated against racial minorities. They claimed that the test was unrelated to job performance and excluded a disproportionate number of black applicants.


Did the recruiting procedures violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Washington v. Davis

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – March 01, 1976 in Washington v. Davis

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 07, 1976 in Washington v. Davis

Byron R. White:

The third case, I have is 74-1492 Washington, Mayor of Washington, D.C. against Davis.

The principal issue in this case is whether the standard test administered to prospective civil service employees of the United States is racially discriminatory and violative of the Due Process Clause of the United States constitution, when it is administered to applicants for the positions on the Metropolitan Police Force for the district of Columbia.

The District Court held that it was not and sustained the test.

The Court of Appeals for the district of Columbia Circuit reversed holding that the test had a discriminatory impact and was therefore unconstitutional whether or not a discriminatory purpose had been demonstrated.

We disagree with the Court of Appeals.

We hold that the proved and unconstitutional racial discrimination under the equal protection or Due Process Clauses, it is essential that a racially discriminatory purpose be shown in some manner.

We also hold that the District Court was correct in sustaining the test under the applicable statutory standards.

We consequently reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

Mr. Justice Stewart joins parts 1 and 2 of the opinion, but not the remainder.

Mr. Justice Stevens has filed a concurring opinion.

Mr. Justice Brennan has filed a dissenting opinion and he is joined by Mr. Justice Marshall.