385 U.S. 589 (1967), 105, Keyishian v. Board of Regents

Docket Nº:No. 105
Citation:385 U.S. 589, 87 S.Ct. 675, 17 L.Ed.2d 629
Party Name:Keyishian v. Board of Regents
Case Date:January 23, 1967
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 589

385 U.S. 589 (1967)

87 S.Ct. 675, 17 L.Ed.2d 629

Keyishian

v.

Board of Regents

No. 105

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 23, 1967

Argued November 17, 1966

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK

Syllabus

Appellants, faculty members of the State University of New York and a non-faculty employee, brought this action for declaratory and injunctive relief, claiming that New York's teacher loyalty laws and regulations are unconstitutional. Their continued employment had been terminated or was threatened when each appellant faculty member refused to comply with a requirement of the University trustees that he certify that he was not a Communist and that, if he had ever been one, he had so advised the university president, and the non-faculty employee refused to state under oath whether he had advocated or been a member of a group which advocated forceful overthrow of the government. Under § 3021 of New York's Education Law, "treasonable or seditious" utterances or acts are grounds for dismissal from the public school system, as well as under § 105, subd. 3, of the Civil Service Law. Other provisions of § 105 of the Civil Service Law disqualify from the civil service or employment in the educational system any person advocating or involved with the distribution of written material which advocates the forceful overthrow of the government. Section 3021 does not define "treasonable or seditious." Section 105, subd. 3, provides that "treasonable word or act" shall mean "treason" as defined in the Penal Law, and "seditious word or act" shall mean "criminal anarchy" as therein defined. Section 3022 (the Feinberg Law) of the Education Law requires the State Board of Regents to issue regulations for the disqualification or removal on loyalty grounds of faculty or other personnel in the state educational system, to make a list of "subversive" organizations, and to provide that membership therein constitutes prima facie evidence of disqualification for employment. The Board listed the National and State Communist Parties as "subversive organizations" under the law, but, shortly before the trial of this case, the university trustees' certificate requirement was rescinded and it was announced that no person would be ineligible for employment "solely" because he refused to sign the

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certificate, and that §§ 3021 and 3022 of the Education Law and § 105 of the Civil Service Law constituted part of the employment contract. A three-judge District Court sustained the constitutionality of these provisions against appellants' challenges of vagueness and overbreadth and dismissed the complaint.

Held:

1. Adler v. Board of Education, 342 U.S. 485, in which this Court upheld some aspects of the New York teacher loyalty plan before its extension to state institutions of higher learning, is not controlling, the vagueness issue presented here involving § 3021 and § 105 not having been decided in Adler, and the validity of the subversive organization membership provision of § 3022 having been upheld for reasons subsequently rejected by this Court. Pp. 593-595.

2. The rescission of the certificate requirement does not moot this case, as the substance of the statutory and regulatory complex challenged by appellants remains. P. 596.

3. Section 3021 of the Education Law and § 105, subds. 1(a), 1(b), and 3, of the Civil Service Law, as implemented by the machinery created pursuant to § 3022 of the Education Law, are unconstitutionally vague, since no teacher can know from § 3021 of the Education Law and § 105, subd. 3, of the Civil Service Law what constitutes the boundary between "seditious" and nonseditious utterances and acts, and the other provisions may well prohibit the employment of one who advocates doctrine abstractly, without any attempt to incite others to action, and may be construed to cover mere expression of belief. Pp. 597-604.

(a) These provisions, which have not been interpreted by the New York courts, can have a stifling effect on the "free play of the spirit which all teachers ought especially to cultivate and practice" (Wieman v. Updegraff, 344 U.S. 183, 195 (concurring opinion)). Pp. 601-602.

(b) Academic freedom is a special concern of the First Amendment, which does not tolerate laws that cast a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom. P. 603.

(c) The prolixity and profusion of statutes, regulations, and administrative machinery, and manifold cross-references to interrelated enactments and rules aggravate the problem of vagueness of wording. P. 604.

4. The provisions of the Civil Service Law (§ 105, subd. 1(c)) and the Education Law (§ 3022, subd. 2) which make Communist Party membership, as such, prima facie evidence of disqualification

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for employment in the public school system are "overbroad," and therefore unconstitutional. Pp. 605-610.

(a) Constitutional doctrine after this Court's upholding of § 3022, subd. 2, in Adler has rejected its major premise that public employment may be conditioned upon the surrender of constitutional rights which could not be abridged by direct government action. P. 605.

(b) Mere knowing membership, without a specific intent to further the unlawful aims of an organization, is not a constitutionally adequate basis for imposing sanctions. Pp. 606-610.

255 F.Supp. 981, reversed and remanded.

BRENNAN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Appellants were members of the faculty of the privately owned and operated University of Buffalo, and became state employees when the University was merged in 1962 into the State University of New York, an institution of higher education owned and operated by the State of New York. As faculty members of the State University, their continued employment was conditioned upon their [87 S.Ct. 678] compliance with a New York plan, formulated

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partly in statutes and partly in administrative regulations,1 which the State utilizes to prevent the appointment or retention of "subversive" persons in state employment.

Appellants Hochfield and Maud were Assistant Professors of English, appellant Keyishian an instructor in English, and appellant Garver, a lecturer in philosophy. Each of them refused to sign, as regulations then in effect required, a certificate that he was not a Communist, and that, if he had ever been a Communist, he had communicated that fact to the President of the State University of New York. Each was notified that his failure to sign the certificate would require his dismissal. Keyishian's one-year-term contract was not renewed, because of his failure to sign the certificate. Hochfield and Garver, whose contracts still had time to run, continue to teach, but subject to proceedings for their dismissal if the constitutionality of the New York plan is sustained. Maud has voluntarily resigned, and therefore no longer has standing in this suit.

Appellant Starbuck was a non-faculty library employee and part-time lecturer in English. Personnel in that classification were not required to sign a certificate, but were required to answer in writing under oath the question,

Have you ever advised or taught or were you ever a member of any society or group of persons which taught or advocated the doctrine that the Government of the United States or of any political subdivisions thereof should be overthrown or overturned by force, violence or any unlawful means?

Starbuck refused to answer the question, and, as a result, was dismissed.

Appellants brought this action for declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that the state program violated the Federal Constitution in various respects. A three-judge

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federal court held that the program was constitutional. 255 F.Supp. 981.2 We noted probable jurisdiction of appellants' appeal, 384 U.S. 998. We reverse.

I

We considered some aspects of the constitutionality of the New York plan 15 years ago in Adler v. Board of Education, 342 U.S. 485. That litigation arose after New York passed the Feinberg Law, which added § 3022 to the Education Law.3 The Feinberg Law was enacted to implement and enforce two earlier statutes. The first was a 1917 law, now § 3021 of the Education Law, under which "the utterance of any treasonable or seditious word or words or the doing of any treasonable or seditious act" is a ground for dismissal from the public school system. The second was a 1939 law which was § 12-a of the Civil Service Law when Adler was decided and, as amended, is now § 105 of that law. This law disqualifies from the civil service and from employment in the educational system any person who advocates the overthrow of government by force, violence, or any unlawful means, or publishes material advocating such overthrow, or organizes or joins any society or group of persons advocating such doctrine.

[87 S.Ct. 679] The Feinberg Law charged the State Board of Regents with the duty of promulgating rules and regulations providing procedures for the disqualification or removal of persons in the public school system who violate the 1917 law or who are ineligible for appointment to or

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retention in the public school system under the 1939 law. The Board of Regents was further directed to make a list, after notice and hearing, of "subversive" organizations, defined as organizations which advocate the doctrine of overthrow of government by force, violence, or any unlawful means. Finally, the Board was directed to provide in its rules and regulations that membership in any listed organization should constitute prima facie evidence of disqualification for appointment to or retention in any office or position in the public schools of the State.

The...

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