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Ambach v. Norwick

Citation. 441 U.S. 68 (1979)
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Brief Fact Summary.

The petitioner challenged the New York State’s refusal to employ as elementary and secondary school teachers aliens who are eligible for United States but who refuse to seek naturalization.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The rule for governmental functions, which is an exception to the general standard applicable to classifications based on alienage, rests on important principles inherent in the Constitution. Because of the special significance of citizenship that governmental entities, when exercising the functions of government have wider latitude in limiting the participation of noncitizens.


New York State has refused to employ as elementary and secondary school teachers aliens who are eligible for United States citizenship but who refuse to seek naturalization. The decisions of the Court regarding the permissibility of statutory classifications involving aliens have not formed a clear line. State regulation of the employment of aliens long has been subject to constitutional constraints.


Does the New York State’s refusal to employ as elementary and secondary school teachers aliens who are eligible for United States but who refuse to seek naturalization violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?


No, teaching in public schools constitutes a governmental function and thus they are not just responsible for teaching the courses, but should help fulfill the broader function of the public school system. Therefore, the Constitution requires only that a citizenship requirement applicable to teaching in the public schools bear a rational relationship to a legitimate state interest. Here, the restriction is carefully framed to serve its purpose, as it bars from teaching only those aliens who have demonstrated their unwillingness to obtain United States citizenship.


Justice Blackmun

It seems unreasonable to say that in these lower levels of public education, a Frenchman may not teach French or an Englishwoman may not teach the grammar of English language. The New York statute itself refutes the majority’s argument, because it provides for exceptions with respect to alien teachers employed pursuant to regulations adopted by the commissioner of education permitting such employment. Moreover, New York is unconcerned with any citizenship qualification for teachers in private schools of the State, even if the record indicates that about 18% of the students at the elementary and secondary levels attend private schools. The New York statute is neither narrowly precise in its application nor rational.


Many of the considerations from the prior cases support the conclusion that public school teachers may be regarded as performing a task that goes to the heart of representative government. Public education, like the police function, fulfills a most fundamental obligation of government to its constituency. The importance of public schools in the preparation of individuals for participation as citizens, and in the preservation of the values on which our society rests, long has been recognized by the Court’s decisions. Further, teachers, regardless of their specialty, may be called upon to teach other subjects, including those expressly dedicated to political and social subjects. More importantly, a State property may regard all teachers as having an obligation to promote civic virtues and understanding in their classes, regardless of the subject taught. Because the New York State has shown a rational relationship to its interest and the practice, it is constitutional.

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