The District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department gave a
civil service test to all applicants who wanted to work as
The written test measured verbal ability, vocabulary, reading
It was the same test that was used nationwide throughout the
federal civil service.
The rejected applicants were African American applicants who
took and failed this test.
Alleging test was discriminatory
They brought this suit alleging that the test was discriminatory
in effect, but they did not allege that this discrimination was
Higher percentage failed
The District Court below found that a higher percentage of
blacks than whites failed the test and that the test had not
been established as a reliable predictor of future job
Rational basis review
However, the examination was given rational-basis review and
found to be reasonably related to the requirements of the
The District Court also found that the test was
not designed or operated to
discriminate against black applicants.
The district court upheld the use of the test
The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that disparate racial
impact alone was sufficient to establish a constitutional
Purpose of Equal Protection
While the central purpose of equal protection is to protect
against official race-based discrimination, we have never held
that official acts that do not have discriminatory purpose
violate the Constitution solely because they have a racially
Unconstitutional to exclude jurors based on race
It is unconstitutional to have a law that excludes jurors on the
basis of their race.
It is not necessarily an invidious discrimination if jury
composition does not reflect community
We have never said that all juries must statistically reflect
the racial composition of the community.
Predominantly black and predominantly white schools Not
The fact that there are predominantly black and predominantly
white schools in a community are not alone a violation of the
Equal Protection Clause.
Our school segregation cases have adhered to the principle that
the invidious quality of a law claimed to be racially
discriminatory must ultimately be traced to a racially
De Jure Segregation is an essential element
current condition of segregation resulting from INTENTIONAL
Neutral on its face
statute, otherwise neutral on its face, must not be applied so
as invidiously to discriminate on the basis of race.
An invidious discriminatory purpose may often be inferred
An invidious discriminatory purpose may often be inferred from
the totality of the relevant facts, including the fact that the
law bears more heavily on one race than another.
Not invalid simply because if affects a greater proportion of
Nevertheless, we have not
held that a law, neutral on its face and serving ends
otherwise within the power of government to pursue,
is invalid under the Equal
Protection Clause simply
because it may affect a greater proportion of one race
than of another.
Disproportionate matters, but not is the sole factor of
invidious racial discrimination
Disproportionate impact is not irrelevant, but it is not the
sole touchstone of an invidious racial discrimination forbidden
by the Constitution.
Disparate impact on racial groups is not the trigger
However, standing alone, [disparate impact on a racial group]
does not trigger the rule that racial classifications are to be
subjected to the strictest scrutiny and are justifiable only by
the weightiest of considerations.
Racially Neutral Qualifications
Is it baseless if qualifications impact a greater proportion of
a race than others?
We cannot understand how a law that establishes a racially
neutral qualification for employment is nevertheless racially
discriminatory and denies equal protection simply because a
greater proportion of African Americans fail to qualify than
members of other racial or ethnic groups.
It is untenable [baseless] that the Constitution prevents the
Government from seeking modestly to upgrade the communicative
abilities of its employees, especially where, as here, the job
requires a special ability to communicate orally and in writing.
- Qualifications are neutral on its fact
The District of Columbia's test is neutral on its face and
rationally may be said to serve a purpose that Government is
constitutionally empowered to pursue.
- It would be far reaching to hold a
neutral statute invalid for just disparate impact
To hold that an otherwise racially neutral statute will be
invalid merely because it disadvantages one racial group more
than another would be far
reaching and would raise serious questions about, and perhaps
invalidate, a whole range of tax, welfare, public service,
regulatory, and licensing statutes that may be more burdensome
to the poor and to the average black than to the more affluent
Concurrence Justice Stevens
Evidence of intent is more objective than a subjective state of
Frequently the most probative evidence of intent will be
objective evidence of what actually happened rather than
evidence describing the subjective state of mind of the actor.
It is unrealistic to expect the victim to uncover the actual
subjective intent of the decision-maker, and it is unwise to
invalidate otherwise legitimate action simply because an
improper motive affected the deliberation of a participant in
the decision-making process.
Not a bright line between discriminatory purpose and impact
The line between discriminatory purpose and discriminatory
impact is not nearly as bright, and perhaps not quite as
critical, as the reader of the Court's opinion may assume.
When the disproportion is dramatic, it really does not matter
whether the standard is phrase in terms of purpose or effect.
There are two reasons why I am convinced that the disparate
impact is not unconstitutional in this case.
First, the test serves
the neutral and legitimate purpose of requiring
all applicants to meet a minimum standard of literacy.
Second, the same test is used throughout the federal civil