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Shelton v. Tucker

    Brief Fact Summary. This case held unconstitutional an Arkansas statute which required every teacher, as a condition to employment in a state-supported school or college, to file annually an affidavit listing without limitation every organization to which he has belonged or regularly contributed within the preceding five years.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The state has the right to investigate the competence and fitness of those whom it hires to teach in its schools. However, to compel a teacher to disclose all their associational ties is to impair that teacher’s right of association.

    Facts. Arkansas’ statute, Act 10, required every teacher, as a condition to employment in a state-supported school or college, to file annually an affidavit listing without limitation every organization to which he has belonged or regularly contributed within the preceding five years. The Petitioner, Mr. Shelton (Petitioner), an Arkansas teacher for twenty-five years, refused to file an affidavit. At trial, evidence revealed that Petitioner was a member of the NAACP. The trial court upheld Act 10, finding that the information sought was “relevant.”

    Issue. Whether Act 10 deprives teachers in Arkansas their rights to person, associational and academic liberty?

    Held. Yes. Judgment of the trial court reversed. There can be no doubt that Arkansas has the right to investigate the competence and fitness of those whom it hires to teach in its schools. However, to compel a teacher to disclose his every associational tie is to impair that teacher’s right of association. The statute does not require the information be kept confidential nor is the statute limited in any way. Thus, the unlimited and indiscriminate sweep of the statute brings it within the ban of prior cases. The statute’s comprehensive interference with associational freedom goes far beyond what might be justified in the exercise of the states legitimate inquiry into the fitness and competency of its teachers.

    Dissent. A school board is entitled to inquire whether any of its teachers has placed himself, or is placing himself (by means of association), in a condition where his work may suffer.

    Discussion. The majority finds that the statute’s unlimited request for information that is not subject to confidentiality violates teachers’ right to free association.


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