441 U.S. 68 (1979), 76-808, Ambach v. Norwick

Docket Nº:No. 76-808
Citation:441 U.S. 68, 99 S.Ct. 1589, 60 L.Ed.2d 49
Party Name:Ambach v. Norwick
Case Date:April 17, 1979
Court:United States Supreme Court

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441 U.S. 68 (1979)

99 S.Ct. 1589, 60 L.Ed.2d 49




No. 76-808

United States Supreme Court

April 17, 1979

Argued January 10, 1979




Held: A New York statute forbidding permanent certification as a public school teacher of any person who is not a United States citizen unless that person has manifested an intention to apply for citizenship does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 72-81.

(a) As a general principle, some state functions are so bound up with the operation of the State as a governmental entity as to permit exclusion from those functions of all persons who have not become part of the process of self-government. Accordingly, a State is required to justify its exclusion of aliens from such governmental positions only "by a showing of some rational relationship between the interest sought to be protected and the limiting classification." Foley v. Connelie, 435 U.S. 291, 296. Pp 73-74.

(b) This rule for governmental functions, which is an exception to the stricter general standard applicable to classifications based on alienage, rests on important principles inherent in the Constitution. The distinction between citizens and aliens, though ordinarily irrelevant to private activity, is fundamental to the definition and government of a State, and the references to such distinction in the Constitution itself indicate that the status of citizenship was meant to have significance in the structure of our government. It is because of this special significance of citizenship that governmental entities, when exercising the functions of government, have wider latitude in limiting the participation of noncitizens. P. 75.

(c) Taking into consideration the role of public education and the degree of responsibility and discretion teachers possess in fulfilling that role, it is clear that public school teachers come well within the "governmental function" principle recognized in Sugarman v. Dougall, 413 U.S. 634, and Foley v. Connelie, supra, and, accordingly, the Constitution requires only that a citizenship requirement applicable to teaching in the public school bear a rational relationship to a legitimate state interest. Pp. 75-80.

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(d) Here, the statute in question does bear a rational relationship to the State's interest in furthering its educational goals, especially with respect to regarding all teachers as having an obligation to promote civic virtues and understanding in their classes, regardless of the subject taught. Pp. 80-81.

417 F.Supp. 913, reversed.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, WHITE, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 81.

POWELL, J., lead opinion

[99 S.Ct. 1591] MR. JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question whether a State, consistently with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, may refuse to employ as elementary and secondary school teachers aliens who are eligible for United States citizenship but who refuse to seek naturalization.


New York Education Law § 3001(3) (McKinney 1970) forbids certification as a public school teacher of any person who is not a citizen of the United States, unless that person has

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manifested an intention to apply for citizenship.1 The Commissioner of Education is authorized to create exemptions from this prohibition, and has done so with respect to aliens who are not yet eligible for citizenship.2 Unless a teacher obtains certification, he may not work in a public elementary or secondary school in New York.3

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Appellee Norwick was born in Scotland, and is a subject of Great Britain. She has resided in this country since 1965, and is married to a United States citizen. Appellee Dachinger is a Finnish subject who came to this country in 1966, and also is married to a United States citizen. Both Norwick and Dachinger currently meet all of the educational requirements New York has set for certification as a public school teacher, but they consistently have refused to seek citizenship in spite of their eligibility to do so. Norwick applied in 1973 for a teaching certificate covering nursery school through sixth grade, and Dachinger sought a certificate covering the same grades in 1975.4 Both applications were denied because of appellees' failure to meet the requirements of § 3001(3). Norwick then filed this suit seeking to enjoin the enforcement of § 3001(3), and Dachinger obtained leave to intervene as a plaintiff.

A three-judge District Court was convened pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2281 (1970 [99 S.Ct. 1592] ed.). Applying the "close judicial scrutiny" standard of Graham v. Richardson, 403 U.S. 365, 372 (1971), the court held that § 3001(3) discriminated against aliens in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Norwick v. Nyquist, 417 F.Supp. 913 (SDNY 1976). The court believed that the statute was overbroad, because it excluded all resident aliens from all teaching jobs regardless of the subject sought to be taught, the alien's nationality, the nature of the

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alien's relationship to this country, and the alien's willingness to substitute some other sign of loyalty to this Nation's political values, such as an oath of allegiance. Id. at 921. We noted probable jurisdiction over the state school officials' appeal, 436 U.S. 902 (1978), and now reverse.



The decisions of this Court regarding the permissibility of statutory classifications involving aliens have not formed an unwavering line over the years. State regulation of the employment of aliens long has been subject to constitutional constraints. In Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356 (1886), the Court struck down an ordinance which was applied to prevent aliens from running laundries, and in Truax v. Raich, 239 U.S. 33 (1915), a law requiring at least 80% of the employees of certain businesses to be citizens was held to be an unconstitutional infringement of an alien's "right to work for a living in the common occupations of the community. . . ." Id. at 41. At the same time, however, the Court also has recognized a greater degree of latitude for the States when aliens were sought to be excluded from public employment. At the time Truax was decided, the governing doctrine permitted States to exclude aliens from various activities when the restriction pertained to "the regulation or distribution of the public domain, or of the common property or resources of the people of the State. . . ." Id. at 39. Hence, as part of a larger authority to forbid aliens from owning land, Frick v. Webb, 263 U.S. 326 (1923); Webb v. O'Brien, 263 U.S. 313 (1923); Terrace v. Thompson, 263 U.S. 197 (1923); Blythe v. Hinckley, 180 U.S. 333 (1901); Hauenstein v. Lynham, 100 U.S. 483 (1880); harvesting wildlife, Patsone v. Pennsylvania, 232 U.S. 138 (1914); McCready v. Virginia, 94 U.S. 391 (1877);

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or maintaining an inherently dangerous enterprise, Ohio ex rel. Clarke v. Deckebach, 274 U.S. 392 (1927), States permissibly could exclude aliens from working on public construction projects, Crane v. New York, 239 U.S. 195 (1915), and, it appears, from engaging in any form of public employment at all, see Truax, supra at 40.

Over time, the Court's decisions gradually have restricted the activities from which States are free to exclude aliens. The first sign that the Court would question the constitutionality of discrimination against aliens even in areas affected with a "public interest" appeared in Oyama v. California, 332 U.S. 633 (1948). The Court there held that statutory presumptions designed to discourage evasion of California's ban on alien landholding discriminated against the citizen children of aliens. The same Term, the Court held that the "ownership" a State exercises over fish found in its territorial waters

is inadequate to justify California in excluding any or all aliens who are lawful residents of the State from making a living by fishing in the ocean off its shores while permitting all others to do so.

Takahashi v. Fish & Game Comm'n, 334 U.S. 410, 421 (1948). This process of withdrawal from the former doctrine [99 S.Ct. 1593] culminated in Graham v. Richardson, supra, which, for the first time, treated classifications based on alienage as "inherently suspect and subject to close judicial scrutiny." 403 U.S. at 372. Applying Graham, this Court has held invalid statutes that prevented aliens from entering a State's classified civil service, Sugarman v. Dougall, 413 U.S. 634 (1973), practicing law, In re Griffiths, 413 U.S. 717 (1973), working as an engineer, Examining Board v. Flores de Otero, 426 U.S. 572 (1976), and receiving state educational benefits, Nyquist v. Mauclet, 432 U.S. 1 (1977).

Although our more recent decisions have departed substantially from the public interest doctrine of Truax's day, they have not abandoned the general principle that some state functions are so bound up with the operation of the State as

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a governmental entity as to permit the exclusion from those functions of all persons who have not become part of the process of self-government. In Sugarman, we recognized that a State could, "in an appropriately defined class of positions, require citizenship as a qualification for office." We went on to observe:

Such power inheres in the State by virtue of its obligation, already noted above, "to preserve the basic conception of a political community." . . . And this power and responsibility of the State applies not only to the qualifications of voters, but also to...

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