Ambach v. Norwick

Annotation

PRIMARY HOLDING

It is constitutional to prohibit non-citizens from teaching in a public school because it is a governmental function.

FACTS

The state of New York did not allow non-citizens to teach in elementary and secondary public schools. This policy applied even if a non-citizen was otherwise qualified for a position and was eligible for citizenship.OPINIONS

Majority

  • Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr. (Author)
  • Warren Earl Burger
  • Potter Stewart
  • Byron Raymond White
  • William Hubbs Rehnquist

Certain functions are entangled with the process of self-government because they closely relate to the operation of the state as a governmental entity. Similarly, a state may refuse to allow non-citizens to join the police force because of the substantial discretionary authority accorded to officers. Alienage receives an elevated level of scrutiny because it is a suspect classification, but this level of scrutiny in turn is reduced in a situation that implicates an important governmental function. There need only be a rational relationship between the restrictions imposed on the classification and the government interests that is being served. Teachers in public schools are intended to serve as examples to their students and embody civic values. This is an important interest of the state, and there is a rational relationship to the requirement that all teachers are U.S. citizens.

Dissent

  • Harry Andrew Blackmun (Author)
  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr.
  • Thurgood Marshall
  • John Paul Stevens

This anachronistic policy dates from a xenophobic period in American history, and there is no need to perpetuate this view. Reducing the heightened scrutiny for alienage classifications is unnecessary. Even if it were reduced to a rational basis standard, there is no logical connection between the classification and the cited state interest. Teachers should be hired according to their quality rather than their citizenship.

CASE COMMENTARY

This decision found that only a rational basis standard applied in this context, suggesting that government functions can be defined as any situations in which policy can be influenced. Considering that this is only tenuously connected to teaching in public schools, there may not be many areas of government employment in which discrimination against non-citizens is forbidden.

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