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Ambach v. Norwick

    Brief Fact Summary. The Respondents, Norwick and Dachinger, are resident aliens denied teaching certificates by the State of New York solely on the grounds of their lack of United States citizenship.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Education, like the police power, represents a “fundamental obligation of [state] government,” and thus allows rational distinctions based on alienage.

    Facts. New York education statutes forbid the certification of any perspective teacher who is eligible for United States citizenship, but refuses to seek naturalization. The Respondents both are foreign citizens eligible to seek naturalization who have refused to do so. Their refusal to seek naturalization is the sole requirement for certification as a teacher that they have not met. They brought suit, alleging that the requirement denies to them equal protection of laws.

    Issue. May the State deny teaching certification on the basis of alienage without violating the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause?

    Held. Yes. Appeals Court ruling reversed and remanded.
    Justice Lewis Powell (J. Powell) argues that the unequivocal bond that citizenship establishes makes it a rational distinguishing trait for the purposes of a state exercising its governmental functions. This he compares to the police power discussed in Foley, 435 U.S. 291 (1978).
    In particular, J. Powell notes that a teacher “has an opportunity to influence the attitudes of students toward government, the political process, and a citizen’s social responsibilities.” An oath of allegiance, he feels, is not a suitable substitute for citizenship itself.

    Dissent. Justice Harry Blackmun (J. Blackmun) argues that the New York Statutes in question are irrational. In particular, he believes that the statute takes educational opportunities away from students.

    Discussion. Norwick extends the rational basis test to more tangential areas of government function. Under the majority’s reasoning in Norwick, there is no clear horizon to a State’s ability to discriminate against legal aliens as government employees. The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) argues that hiring support staff would not raise a legitimate state interest in discrimination. The majority says that the horizon is the ability to influence policy. However, the dissent argues that a teacher is not in such a position, as indeed the dissent in Foley had argued about police.


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