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

2011-10-17 11:16:45

Interpreting the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Supreme Court has generally subjected all state and local laws that discriminate on the basis of alienage to the strictest scrutiny, noting that, unlike the federal government, state entities do not have the power to regulate the admission or expulsion of noncitizens. The Court has nonetheless created a ‘‘public function’’ exception whereby the state is allowed to reserve certain occupations for U.S. citizens only if these jobs require their holders to perform functions intimately related to democratic self-governance. Hence, police officers exercise discretionary authority sufficiently connected to the development of state public policy that, in Foley v. Connelie, 435 U.S. 291 (1978), the Court upheld state laws precluding noncitizens from such service.

In Ambach, the Court extended this exception to uphold New York’s bar against certain noncitizens who wished to become public school teachers. Citing the importance of teachers in instilling democratic values and civic virtue among their pupils, the fiveperson majority held that the state’s decision to preclude noncitizens who were eligible but unwilling to apply for U.S. Citizenship was rationally related to its goal of promoting democracy. The four dissenters questioned whether proxies for loyalty such as Citizenship were rational, especially when applied against otherwise well-qualified teacher applicants. In the end, Ambach’s legacy may depend on the extent to which the case is limited to its facts. After all, the New York statute only precluded those who decided not to naturalize, a choice that the majority decided to hold against the noncitizens.


References and Further Reading

  • Carrasco, Gilbert Paul, Congressional Arrogation of Power: Alien Constellation in the Galaxy of Equal Protection, Boston University Law Review 74 (1994): 591–641
  • Scaperlanda, Michael A., Partial Membership: Aliens and the Constitutional Community, Iowa Law Review 81 (1996): 707–73

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Foley v. Connelie, 435 U.S. 291 (1978)