435 U.S. 291 (1978), 76-839, Foley v. Connelie

Docket Nº:No. 76-839
Citation:435 U.S. 291, 98 S.Ct. 1067, 55 L.Ed.2d 287
Party Name:Foley v. Connelie
Case Date:March 22, 1978
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 291

435 U.S. 291 (1978)

98 S.Ct. 1067, 55 L.Ed.2d 287




No. 76-839

United States Supreme Court

March 22, 1978

Argued November 8, 1977




New York statute limiting appointment of members of state police force to citizens of the United States held not to violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 294-300.

(a) Citizenship may be a relevant qualification for fulfilling those "important nonelective . . . positions" held by "officers who participate directly in the formulation, execution, or review of broad public policy," Sugarman v. Dougall, 413 U.S. 634, 647. Strict equal protection scrutiny is not required to justify classifications applicable to such positions; a State need only show some rational relationship between the interest sought to be protected and the limiting classification. In deciding what level of scrutiny is to be applied, each position in question must be examined to determine whether it involves discretionary decisionmaking, or execution of policy, which substantially affects members of the political community. Pp. 294-297.

(b) Police officials are clothed with authority to exercise an almost infinite variety of discretionary powers, calling for a very high degree of judgment and discretion, the exercise of which can seriously affect individuals. Police officers fall within the category of "important noneglective . . . officers who participate directly in the . . . execution . . . of broad public policy." Dougall, supra at 647 (emphasis added). In the enforcement and execution of the laws, the police function is one where citizenship bears a rational relationship to the special demands of the particular position, and a State may therefore confine the performance of this important public responsibility to those who are citizens. Pp. 297-300.

419 F.Supp. 889, affirmed.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEWART, WHITE, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. STEWART, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 300. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the result, post, p. 300. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 302. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 307.

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BURGER, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

We noted probable jurisdiction in this case to consider whether a State may constitutionally limit the appointment of members of its police force to citizens of the United States. 430 U.S. 944 (1977).

The appellant, Edmund Foley, is an alien eligible in due course to become a naturalized citizen, who is lawfully in this country as a permanent resident. He applied for appointment as a New York State trooper, a position which is filled on the basis of competitive examinations. Pursuant to a New York statute, N.Y.Exec.Law § 215(3) (McKinney 1972), state authorities refused to allow Foley to take the examination. The statute provides:

No person shall be appointed to the New York state police force unless he shall be a citizen of the United States.

Appellant then brought this action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, seeking a declaratory judgment that the State's exclusion of aliens from its police force violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. After Foley was certified as representative of a class of those similarly situated, a three-judge

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District Court was convened to consider the merits of the claim. The District Court held the statute to be constitutional. 419 F.Supp. 889 (1976). We affirm.


The essential facts in this case are uncontroverted. New York Exec.Law § 215(3) (McKinney 1972) prohibits appellant and his class from becoming state troopers. It is not disputed that the State has uniformly complied with this restriction since the statute was enacted in 1927. Under it, an alien who desires to compete for a position as a New York State trooper must relinquish his foreign citizenship and become an American citizen. Some members of the class, including appellant, are not currently eligible for American citizenship due to waiting periods imposed by congressional enactment.1

A trooper in New York is a member of the state police force, a law enforcement body which exercises broad police authority throughout the State. The powers of troopers are generally described in the relevant statutes as including those functions traditionally associated with a peace officer. Like most peace officers, they are charged with the prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension of suspected criminals, investigation of suspect conduct, execution of warrants and have powers of search, seizure and arrest without a formal warrant under limited circumstances. In the course of carrying out these responsibilities, an officer is empowered by New York law to resort to lawful force, which may include the use of any weapon that he is required to carry while on duty. All troopers are on call 24 hours a day, and are required to take appropriate action whenever criminal activity is observed.

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Perhaps the best shorthand description of the role of the New York State trooper was that advanced by the District Court:

State police are charged with the enforcement of the law, not in a private profession and for the benefit of themselves and their clients, but for the benefit of the people at large of the State of New York.

419 F.Supp. at 896.


Appellant claims that the relevant New York statute violates his rights under the Equal Protection Clause.

The decisions of this Court with regard to the rights of aliens living in our society have reflected fine, and often difficult, [98 S.Ct. 1070] questions of values. As a Nation, we exhibit extraordinary hospitality to those who come to our country,2 which is not surprising, for we have often been described as "a nation of immigrants." Indeed, aliens lawfully residing in this society have many rights which are accorded to noncitizens by few other countries. Our cases generally reflect a close scrutiny of restraints imposed by States on aliens. But we have never suggested that such legislation is inherently invalid, nor have we held that all limitations on aliens are suspect. See Sugarman v. Dougall, 413 U.S. 634, 648 (1973). Rather, beginning with a case which involved the denial of welfare assistance essential to life itself, the Court has treated certain restrictions on aliens with "heightened judicial solicitude," Graham v. Richardson, 403 U.S. 365, 372 (1971), a treatment deemed necessary since aliens -- pending their eligibility for citizenship -- have no direct voice in the political processes. See United States v. Carolene Products Co., 304 U.S. 144, 152-153, n. 4 (1938).3

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Following Graham, a series of decisions has resulted requiring state action to meet close scrutiny to exclude aliens as a class from educational benefits, Nyquist v. Mauclet, 432 U.S. 1 (1977); eligibility for a broad range of public employment, Sugarman v. Dougall, supra; or the practice of licensed professions, Examining Board v. Flores de Otero, 426 U.S. 572 (1976); In re Griffiths, 413 U.S. 717 (1973). These exclusions struck at the noncitizens' ability to exist in the community, a position seemingly inconsistent with the congressional determination to admit the alien to permanent residence. See Graham, supra at 377-378; Barrett, Judicial Supervision of Legislative Classifications -- A More Modest Role For Equal Protection?, 1976 B.Y.U.L.Rev. 89, 101.4

It would be inappropriate, however, to require every statutory exclusion of aliens to clear the high hurdle of "strict scrutiny," because to do so would "obliterate all the distinctions between citizens and aliens, and thus depreciate the historic values of citizenship." Mauclet, supra at 14 (BURGER, C.J., dissenting). The act of becoming a citizen is more than a ritual, with no content beyond the fanfare of ceremony. A new citizen has become a member of a Nation, part of a people distinct from others. Cf. Worcester v. Georgia, 6 Pet. 515, 559 (1832). The individual, at that point, belongs to the polity, and is entitled to participate in the processes of democratic decisionmaking. Accordingly, we have recognized "a State's historical power to exclude aliens from participation in its democratic political institutions," Dougall, supra at 648, as

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part of the sovereign's obligation "`to preserve the basic conception of a political community.'" 413 U.S. at 647.

The practical consequence of this theory is that "our scrutiny will not be so demanding where we deal with matters firmly within a State's constitutional prerogatives." Dougall, supra at 648. The State need only justify its classification by a showing of some rational relationship between the interest sought to be protected and the limiting classification. This is not intended to denigrate the valuable [98 S.Ct. 1071] contribution of aliens who benefit from our traditional hospitality. It is no more than recognition of the fact that a democratic society is ruled by its people. Thus, it is clear that a State may deny aliens the right to vote, or to run for elective office, for these lie at the heart of our political institutions. See 413 U.S. at 647-649. Similar considerations support a legislative determination to exclude aliens from jury service. See Perkins v. Smith, 370 F.Supp. 134 (Md.1974), aff'd, 426 U.S. 913 (1976). Likewise, we have recognized that citizenship may be a relevant qualification for fulfilling those "important nonelective...

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