Brief Fact Summary. New York State law prohibited non-citizens from being appointed state policemen. The Appellant, Edmund Foley (Appellant), was refused the opportunity to sit for the state police exam on the basis of his alien status.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. When a state acts within its constitutional prerogatives, its classifications based on alienage are subject only to rational basis scrutiny.
The police function fulfills a most fundamental obligation of government to its constituency.View Full Point of Law
Issue. May a State discriminate between aliens and citizens in comprising its police force?
Held. Yes, as long as there is a rational basis for such distinction. Appeals Court ruling affirmed.
Chief Justice Warren Burger (J. Burger) wrote for the majority that strict scrutiny in all areas where alien status is used restrictively would “obliterate all distinctions between citizens and aliens.” J. Burger notes that a State may deny the right to vote, run for office, or sit on juries to non-citizens, as these are “at the heart of our political institutions.” The police power, as well, is an extension of the political life of the community.
For the same reason that non-citizens do not sit in trial over citizens, the state has an interest in not allowing non-citizens to invade the privacy of citizens and to allow non-citizens to exercise the discretionary powers of police officers against citizens.
Dissent. Justice Thurgood Marshall (J. Marshall) argues that loosening of the level of review in the present case is inappropriate. He argues that the position of police officer does not require policy-making and as such, is not incompatible with integrity of the political process.
Discussion. The majority changes the standard of review in certain situations, namely where the State is legislating within its “constitutional prerogative.” Strict scrutiny is no longer appropriate, but rather rational basis.