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

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AMBACH v. NORWICK 441 U.S. 68 (1979)

Ambach completed the process, begun in foley v. connelie (1978), of carving out a major exception to the principle that discrimination against aliens amounts to a suspect classification, triggering strict scrutiny of its justifications. New York forbade employment as public school teachers of aliens who had not shown an intention to seek u. s. citizenship. The Supreme Court held, 5–4, that this discrimination did not deny its victims the equal protection of the laws.

Justice lewis f. powell, for the majority, concluded that Foley, following obiter dicta in sugarman v. dougall (1973), implied the exception in question. Where "governmental functions" were involved, the state need show only that the exclusion of aliens had a rational basis. Public school teachers, like police officers, have great individual responsibility and discretion; part of a teacher's function is to transmit our society's values and prepare children to be participating citizens. Under the rational basis standard, the state need not show a close fit between its classification and its objectives; the standard is met if it is rational to conclude that citizens generally would be better able than aliens to transmit citizenship values.

Justice harry a. blackmun, author of the Sugarman opinion, led the dissenters, pointing out the indiscriminate sweep of the disqualification of aliens, and its tenuous connection with educational goals. (Private schools, for example, were permitted to use alien teachers, even though they were charged with transmitting citizenship values to eighteen percent of New York's children.)

Kenneth L. Karst