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Saturday, May 04, 2013

What Rational Basis Review Really Means

Thank you to Dan and the rest of the Prawfs regulars for having me back! I'll be blogging lightly for the next few days due to other commitments, but I hope to make up for it later in the month.  Most of my posts will deal with individual constitutional rights.

Meanwhile, I came across a case the other day that I thought might interest my fellow constitutional law professors, particularly those who are, at this busy time of year, immersed in answering student questions or designing their final exams.  It's not a new case, but it helps reveal exactly how little is required for the government to survive rational basis review.

The case is an unpublished case from the Second Circuit -- Jordan v. City of New London, 225 F.3d 645, 2000 WL 1210820 (2d Cir. Aug. 23, 2000).  There, the Second Circuit rejected the claims of a man who was barred from becoming a police officer because his score on an intelligence test was too high.  He scored 33 points -- the equivalent of an IQ of 125 -- and the New London Police Department interviewed only candidates whose scores ranged from 120-127 "to prevent frequent job turnover caused by hiring overqualified applicants."  The city's argument was that high-scoring prospective officers are more likely to become bored quickly and move on to other jobs, thereby wasting the resources that were invested in their training.

The Second Circuit held that even in the absence of a proven statistical correlation between high scores and turnover resulting from low job satisfaction, the city was entitled to rely on materials from the test-maker that said such a relationship existed or might exist, even though those materials themselves also cited no evidence of such a relationship.  Moreover, the Second Circuit did not publish the case, suggesting that it viewed its decision as uncontroversial.

The purpose of my post isn't to agree or disagree with the result.  It's simply to provide (another) example professors might use to demonstrate how much support courts require in order for the government to survive rational basis review.  And the answer appears to be:  not much.


Posted by Nancy Leong on May 4, 2013 at 09:29 AM in Constitutional thoughts | Permalink


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Since 125 is w/i the range (high end 127), I was a bit confused, but the opinion noted:

"The city responded that it removed Jordan from consideration because he scored a 33 on the WPT, and that to prevent frequent job turnover caused by hiring overqualified applicants the city only interviewed candidates who scored [*3] between 20 and 27."

It was not the issue, but his assumption that his age (46) factored in somehow is perhaps notable. It is a useful example.

Posted by: Joe | May 6, 2013 12:20:00 PM

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