Davis v. Passman
Annotate this Case
442 U.S. 228 (1979)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Davis v. Passman, 442 U.S. 228 (1979)
Davis v. Passman
Argued February 27, 1979
Decided June 5, 1979
442 U.S. 228
Petitioner brought suit in Federal District Court alleging that respondent, who was a United States Congressman at the time this case commenced, had discriminated against petitioner on the basis of her sex, in violation of the Fifth Amendment, by terminating her employment as a deputy administrative assistant. Petitioner sought damages in the form of backpay, and jurisdiction was founded on the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1331(a) that confer original jurisdiction on federal district courts of all civil actions wherein the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $10,00 and arises under the Federal Constitution. The District Court ruled that petitioner had no private right of action, and the Court of Appeals ultimately held that "no right of action may be implied from the Due Process Clause of the fifth amendment."
Held: A cause of action and damages remedy can be implied directly under the Constitution when the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment is violated. Cf. Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U. S. 388; Butz v. Economou, 438 U. S. 478. Pp. 442 U. S. 233-249.
(a) The equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause confers on petitioner a federal constitutional right to be free from gender discrimination that does not serve important governmental objectives or is not substantially related to the achievement of such objectives. Pp. 442 U. S. 234-235.
(b) The term "cause of action," as used in this case, refers to whether a plaintiff is a member of a class of litigants that may, as a matter of law, appropriately invoke the power of the court. Since petitioner rests her claim directly on the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, claiming that her rights under that Amendment have been violated and that she has no effective means other than the judiciary to vindicate these rights, she is an appropriate party to invoke the District Court's general federal question jurisdiction to seek relief, and she therefore has a cause of action under the Fifth Amendment. The Court of Appeals erred in using the criteria of Cort v. Ash, 422 U. S. 66, to conclude that petitioner lacked such a cause of action, since the question of who may enforce a statutory right is fundamentally different from the question of who may enforce a right protected by the Constitution. Pp. 442 U. S. 236-244.
(c) Petitioner should be able to redress her injury in damages if she is able to prevail on the merits. A damages remedy is appropriate, since it is a "remedial mechanism normally available in the federal courts," Bivens, supra at 403 U. S. 397, since it would be judicially manageable without difficult questions of valuation or causation, and since there are no available alternative forms of relief. Moreover, if respondent's actions are not shielded by the Speech or Debate Clause, the principle that legislators ought generally to be bound by the law as are ordinary persons applies. And there is "no explicit congressional declaration that persons" in petitioner's position injured by unconstitutional federal employment discrimination "may not recover money damages from" those responsible for the injury. Ibid. To afford petitioner a damages remedy does not mean that the federal courts will be deluged with claims, as the Court of Appeals feared. Moreover, current limitations upon the effective functioning of the courts arising from budgetary inadequacies should not be permitted to stand in the way of the recognition of otherwise sound constitutional principles. Pp. 442 U. S. 245-249.
571 F.2d 793, reversed and remanded.
BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which POWELL and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 442 U. S. 249. STEWART, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 442 U. S. 251. POWELL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 442 U. S. 251.