Kelley v. Johnson, 74-1269

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation425 U.S. 238,47 L.Ed.2d 708,96 S.Ct. 1440
Docket NumberNo. 74-1269,74-1269
PartiesEugene R. KELLEY, Commissioner of the Suffolk County Police Department, Petitioner, v. Edward JOHNSON, etc
Decision Date05 April 1976

425 U.S. 238
96 S.Ct. 1440
47 L.Ed.2d 708
Eugene R. KELLEY, Commissioner of the Suffolk County Police Department, Petitioner,


Edward JOHNSON, etc.

No. 74-1269.
Argued Dec. 8, 1975.
Decided April 5, 1976.

A county regulation limiting the length of county policemen's hair Held not to violate any right guaranteed respondent policeman by the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 244-249

(a) Respondent sought the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment, not as an ordinary citizen, but as a law enforcement employee of the county, a subdivision of the State, and this distinction is one of considerable significance since a State has wider latitude and notably different interests in imposing restrictive regulations on its employees than it does in regulating the citizenry at large. P. 245.

(b) Choice of organization, dress, and equipment for law enforcement personnel is entitled to the same sort of presumption of legislative validity as are state choices to promote other aims within the cognizance of the State's police power. Thus, the question is not whether the State can "establish" a "genuine public need" for the specific regulation, but whether respondent can demonstrate that there is no rational connection between the regulation, based as it is on the county's method of organizing its police force, and the promotion of safety of persons and property. Pp. 245-247.

(c) Whether a state or local government's choice to have its police uniformed reflects a desire to make police officers readily recognizable to the public or to foster the esprit de corps that similarity of garb and appearance may inculcate within the police force itself, the justification for the hair-style regulation is sufficiently rational to defeat respondent's claim based on the liberty guarantee of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 247-248.

508 F.2d 836, 2 Cir., reversed.

Page 239

Patrick A. Sweeney, Northport, for petitioner; Howard E. Pachman, Suffolk County Atty., on the brief.

Leonard D. Wexler, Smithtown, for respondent; Richard T. Haefeli, Smithtown, on the brief.

James van R. Springer, Washington, D.C., for International Brotherhood of Police Officers, amicus curiae.

Mr. Justice REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

The District Court for the Eastern District of New York originally dismissed respondent's complaint seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against a regulation promulgated by petitioner limiting the length of a policeman's hair. On respondent's appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, that judgment was reversed, and on remand the District Court took testimony and thereafter granted the relief sought by respondent. The Court of Appeals affirmed, and we granted certiorari, 421 U.S. 987, 95 S.Ct. 1989, 44 L.Ed.2d 476 (1975), to consider the constitutional doctrine embodied in the rulings of the Court of Appeals. We reverse.


In 1971 respondent's predecessor, individually and as president of the Suffolk County Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, brought this action under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against petitioner's predecessor, the Commissioner of the Suffolk County Police Department. The Commissioner had promulgated Order No. 71-1, which established hair-grooming standards applicable to male members of the police force.1 The

Page 240

regulation was directed at the style and length of hair, sideburns, and mustaches; beards and goatees were prohibited, except for medical reasons; and wigs conforming to the regulation could be worn for cosmetic reasons. The regulation was attacked as violative of respondent patrolman's right of free expression under the First Amendment and his guarantees of due process and equal

Page 241

protection under the Fourteenth Amendment, in that it was "not based upon the generally accepted standard of grooming in the community" and placed "an undue restriction" upon his activities therein.

The Court of Appeals held that cases characterizing the uniformed civilian services as "para-military," and sustaining hair regulations on that basis, were not soundly grounded historically.2 It said that the fact that a police force is organized "with a centralized administration and a disciplined rank and file for efficient conduct of its affairs" did not foreclose respondent's claim, but instead bore only upon "the existence of a legitimate state interest to be reasonably advanced by the regulation." Dwen v. Barry, 483 F.2d 1126, 1128-1129 (2 Cir. 1973). The Court of Appeals went on to decide that "choice of personal appearance is an ingredient of an individual's personal liberty" 3 and is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. It further held that the police department had "failed to make the slightest showing of the relationship between its regulation and the legitimate interest it sought to promote." Id., at 1130-1131. On the basis of this reasoning it concluded that neither dismissal nor summary judgment in the District Court was appropriate, since the department "has the burden of establishing

Page 242

a genuine public need for the regulation." Id., at 1131.

Thereafter the District Court, under the compulsion of the remand from the Court of Appeals, took testimony on the question of whether or not there was a "genuine public need." The sole witness was the Deputy Commissioner of the Suffolk County Police Department, petitioner's subordinate, who testified as to the police department's concern for the safety of the patrolmen, and the need for some standards of uniformity in appearance.4 The District Court held that "(n)o proof" was offered to support any claim of the need for the protection of the police officer, and that while "proper grooming" is an ingredient of a good police department's esprit de

Page 243

corps, petitioner's standards did not establish a public need because they ultimately reduced to "(u)niformity for uniformity's sake." 5 The District Court granted the

Page 244

relief prayed for by respondent, and on petitioner's appeal that judgment was affirmed without opinion by the Court of Appeals. 508 F.2d 836.


Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides in pertinent part:

"No State shall . . . deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."

This section affords not only a procedural guarantee against the deprivation of "liberty," but likewise protects substantive aspects of liberty against unconstitutional restrictions by the State. Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 572, 92 S.Ct. 2701, 2706-07, 33 L.Ed.2d 548, 557-58 (1972); Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, 502, 85 S.Ct. 1678, 1691, 14 L.Ed.2d 510, 525-26 (1965) (White, J., concurring).

The "liberty" interest claimed by respondent here, of course, is distinguishable from the interests protected by the Court in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 93 S.Ct. 705, 35 L.Ed.2d 147 (1973); Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S. 438, 92 S.Ct. 1029, 31 L.Ed.2d 349 (1972); Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645, 92 S.Ct. 1208, 31 L.Ed.2d 551 (1972); Griswold v. Connecticut, supra; and Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 43 S.Ct. 625, 67 L.Ed. 1042 (1923). Each of those cases involved a substantial claim of infringement on the individual's freedom of choice with respect to certain basic matters of procreation, marriage, and family life. But whether the citizenry at large has some sort of "liberty" interest within the Fourteenth Amendment in matters of personal appearance is a question on which this Court's cases offer little, if any, guidance. We can, nevertheless, assume an affirmative answer for purposes of deciding this case, because we find that assumption insufficient to carry the day for respondent's claim.

Respondent has sought the protection of the Fourteenth

Page 245

Amendment, not as a member of the citizenry at large, but on the contrary as an employee of the police department of Suffolk County, a subdivision of the State of New York. While the Court of Appeals made passing reference to this distinction, it was thereafter apparently ignored. We think, however, it is highly significant. In Pickering v. Board of Education, 391 U.S. 563, 568, 88 S.Ct. 1731, 1734, 20 L.Ed.2d 811, 817 (1968), after noting that state employment may not be conditioned on the relinquishment of First Amendment rights, the Court stated that "(a)t the same time it cannot be gainsaid that the State has interests as an employer in regulating the speech of its employees that differ significantly from those it possesses in connection with regulation of the speech of the citizenry in general." More recently, we have sustained comprehensive and substantial restrictions upon activities of both federal and state employees lying at the core of the First Amendment. CSC v. Letter Carriers, 413 U.S. 548, 93 S.Ct. 2880, 37 L.Ed.2d 796 (1973); Broadrick v. Oklahoma, 413 U.S. 601, 93 S.Ct. 2908, 37 L.Ed.2d 830 (1973). If such state regulations may survive challenges based on the explicit language of the First Amendment, there is surely even more room for restrictive regulations of state employees where the claim implicates only the more general contours of the substantive liberty interest protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.

The hair-length regulation here touches respondent as an employee of the county and, more particularly, as a policeman. Respondent's employer has, in accordance with its well-established duty to keep the peace, placed myriad demands upon the members of the police force, duties which have no counterpart with respect to the public at large. Respondent must wear a standard uniform, specific in each detail.6 When in uniform he must

Page 246

salute the flag.7 He may not take an active role in local political affairs by way of being a party delegate or contributing or soliciting political contributions.8 He may not smoke in public.9 All of these and other regulations10 of the Suffolk County Police...

To continue reading

Request your trial
449 cases
  • Angle v. Dow, Civ. A. No. 92-0344-AH-C.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Southern District of Alabama
    • June 1, 1993
    ...107 S.Ct. 3263, 97 L.Ed.2d 762 (1987). 52 Id. at 960. 53 McMullen v. Carson, 754 F.2d 936, 938 (11th Cir.1985) (citing Kelley v. Johnson, 425 U.S. 238, 96 S.Ct. 1440, 47 L.Ed.2d 708 54 Busby, supra, 931 F.2d at 774. 55 Eiland v. City of Montgomery, 797 F.2d 953, 960 (11th Cir.1986), cert. d......
  • Local 491, Police Officers v. Gwinnett County, Ga, Civil Action No. 1:06-CV-0303-RWS.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Northern District of Georgia
    • May 7, 2007
    ...controlled by the rational basis test applied by the Supreme Court to a law enforcement official dress regulation in Kelley v. Johnson, 425 U.S. 238, 247, 96 S.Ct. 1440, 47 L.Ed.2d 708 (1976). Even assuming a First Amendment interest, however, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs have failed to......
  • Turney v. Civil Service Com'n, No. 08CA0215.
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • April 16, 2009
    ..."deems the most efficient in enabling its police to carry out the duties assigned to them under state and local law." Kelley v. Johnson, 425 U.S. 238, 246, 96 S.Ct. 1440, 47 L.Ed.2d 708 Arnett v. Kennedy, 416 U.S. 134, 94 S.Ct. 1633, 40 L.Ed.2d 15 (1974), upheld an extremely broad federal c......
  • Blue Sky Bar, Inc. v. Town of Stratford, No. 12837
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • March 31, 1987
    ...right to pursue his occupation ... unless it is rationally related to the achievement of a legitimate state interest. Kelley v. Johnson, 425 U.S. 238, 247, 96 S.Ct. 1440, 47 L.Ed.2d 708 (1976); Weber v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., 406 U.S. 164, 172-73, 92 S.Ct. 1400, [1405] 31 L.Ed.2d 768 ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
5 books & journal articles
  • Ten Troubles with Title VII and Trait Discrimination Plus One Simple Solution (A totality of the Circumstances Framework)
    • United States
    • Capital University Law Review No. 37-4, July 2009
    • July 1, 2009
    ...City of Philadelphia, 562 F.3d 256 (3d Cir. 2009). 479 Id. at 261. 480 Goldman v. Weinberger, 475 U.S. 503 (1986). 481 Kelley v. Johnson, 425 U.S. 238 (1975). 482 Id. 483 See Wellner, supra note 476, at 77. 1036 CAPITAL UNIVERSITY LAW REVIEW [37:965 employee originally suggested it). 484 Th......
  • Suffer Not the Little Children: Prioritizing Children's Rights in Constitutional Challenges to 'Same-Sex Adoption Bans
    • United States
    • Capital University Law Review No. 39-2, December 2010
    • December 1, 2010
    ...are equal before the law . . . .‖). 172 See DeShaney v. Winnebago Cnty. Dept. of Soc. Servs., 489 U.S. 189 (1989); Kelley v. Johnson, 425 U.S. 238, 244 (1976). 173 Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558, 598–99 (2003). 174 Id. 175 Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 399–400 (1923). 2011] SUFFER NOT T......
  • Religion in the Public Workplace: A Primer for Public Employers
    • United States
    • Public Personnel Management No. 52-1, March 2023
    • March 1, 2023
    ...v. United States Postal Service, 364 F. Supp. 37 (1973).Kelly v. Johnson, 425 U.S. 238 (1976).Kennedy v. Bremerton Sch. Dist., 991 F.3d 1004 (9th Cir. 2021).Kennedy v. Bremerton Sch. Dist., 2022 U.S. LEXIS 500 (2022).Kennedy v. Bremerton Sch. Dist. 142 S. Ct. 2407 (2022).King, S. (2007). Re......
  • Religion in the Public Workplace: A Primer for Public Employers
    • United States
    • Public Personnel Management No. 52-1, March 2023
    • March 1, 2023
    ...v. United States Postal Service, 364 F. Supp. 37 (1973).Kelly v. Johnson, 425 U.S. 238 (1976).Kennedy v. Bremerton Sch. Dist., 991 F.3d 1004 (9th Cir. 2021).Kennedy v. Bremerton Sch. Dist., 2022 U.S. LEXIS 500 (2022).Kennedy v. Bremerton Sch. Dist. 142 S. Ct. 2407 (2022).King, S. (2007). Re......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT