The majority went on to argue that it is almost impossible to guess at any logical stopping place to the afore-prescribed theory of reasoning. Davis' interpretation of the law as set out in his briefs would seem almost necessarily to manifest itself in every legally cognizable injury which may have been inflicted by a state official - of any sort, not just a police officer -- acting under "color of law" establishing a violation of the Fifth Amendment as extended to the 50 states by the aforementioned Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
According to the majority, "We think it would come as a great surprise to those who drafted and shepherded the adoption of that Amendment to learn that it worked such a result, and a study of our decisions convinces us they do not support the construction urged by respondent."
Section 4: The Result
Consequently, the majority of the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Davis had no cause of action. Specifically, in the famed 5-to-3 decision, the Supreme Court held that Davis simply had not been deprived of any constitutional rights under the Due Process Clause. The Court also emphasized that constitutional privacy interests were not sufficient to cover Davis's claims. The Supreme Court opined that the constitutional right to privacy was limited to matters relating to "marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, and child rearing and education." The publication of records of official acts, such as arrests, did not fall under the rubric of privacy rights, and this therefore exhumed Davis' second major cause of action.
As for the actual analysis of the result, the majority of the Supreme Court ruled that while there is no "right of privacy" found in any specific guarantee of the Constitution, the Supreme Court has recognized - and will continue to recognize -- that "zones of privacy" may be created by more specific constitutional guarantees and therein impose set limits upon government power, whether federal or state-based as invoked by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. (See Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 152-153 (1973)).
Davis' case, however, rested within none of these areas, according to the majority of the Supreme Court. Davis did not seek to suppress evidence seized in the course of an unreasonable search. (See Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 351 (1967); Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 8-9 (1968)). And furthermore, according to the U.S. Supreme Court's opinion, "Our other "right of privacy" cases, while defying categorical description, deal generally with substantive aspects of the Fourteenth Amendment. In Roe the Court pointed out that the personal rights found in this guarantee of personal privacy must be limited to those which are "fundamental" or "implicit in the concept of ordered liberty" as described in Palko v. Connecticut, 302 U.S. 319, 325 (1937)." (Paul v. Davis)
Indeed, the types of individual activities ruled as being within this definition of "right of privacy" were ones that were very distinct from that for which Davis claims constitutional protection -- matters relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, and child rearing and education. In these areas it has been held that there are limitations on the States' power to substantively regulate conduct, but not in the area in which Davis sued.
In fact, according to the majority opinion, Davis' claim is far off course from this line of court decisions surrounding the right of privacy issue. Davis alleges constitutional protection against the disclosure of the fact of his arrest on a shoplifting charge. His claim is based not upon any challenge to Kentucky's ability to proscribe his freedom of action in a sphere contended to be "private," however, but instead on a claim that Kentucky via the chief of police's actions may not publicize a record of an official act such as an arrest. None of Supreme Court's substantive privacy decisions holds to this conclusion or to anything like this extrapolation, and, in the Supreme Court's words themselves, "We decline to enlarge them in this manner." (Paul v. Davis)
Section 5: The Dissent
Justice Brennan wrote a scathing dissent in which he opined that, "The Court today holds that police officials, acting in their official capacities as law enforcers, may on their own initiative and without trial constitutionally condemn innocent individuals as criminals and thereby brand them with one of the most stigmatizing and debilitating labels in our society. If there are no constitutional restraints on such oppressive behavior, the safeguards constitutionally accorded an accused in a criminal trial are rendered a sham, and no individual can feel secure that he will not be arbitrarily singled out for similar ex-parte punishment by those primarily charged with fair enforcement of the law." (Paul v. Davis)
Specifically, Brennan felt that the Supreme Court accomplishes the result of eroding the Due Process Clause in squashing Davis' interest in his good name and reputation from all constitutional protection, regardless of the character of or necessity for the government's actions. The effect, which Brennan called demonstrably inconsistent with our prior case law and unduly restrictive in its construction of our precious Bill of Rights, is one that flew in the face of the Due Process Clause and waxed inconsistent with not only U.S. Supreme Court rulings but other federal circuits' as well.
Section 6: The Effect of the Time Period on the Decision
The 1970s, as mentioned earlier, were a tumultuous period in America. The trend, starting with the extension of the Fifth Amendment to the States via the Fourteenth Amendment had snowballed into a number of cases improving the situation of the African-American in America.
This case can almost been seen as a practical backlash against those decisions. Many historians feel that race played in important role in the decision. The justices felt that the buck had to stop somewhere on their rewriting of America's fabric, and unfortunately for Davis, this is where it happened to stop.
As Brennan commented, this decision flies in the face of most of the recent decisions extending right of privacy.
Without the backdrop of the civil rights movement, Davis may actually have won his case.