Bishop v. Wood 426 U.S. 341 (1976)

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BISHOP v. WOOD 426 U.S. 341 (1976)

Bishop worked a major change in the modern law of procedural due process, enshrining in the law the view Justice william h. rehnquist had unsuccessfully urged in arnett v. kennedy (1974): the due process right of a holder of a statutory "entitlement" is defined by positive law, not by the Constitution itself.

Here, a city ordinance that classified a police officer as a "permanent employee" was nonetheless interpreted by the lower federal courts to give an officer employment only "at the will and pleasure of the city." The Supreme Court held, 5–4, that this ordinance created no "property" interest in the officer's employment, and that, absent public disclosure of the reasons for his termination, he had suffered no stigma that impaired a "liberty" interest. The key to the majority's decision presumably lay in this sentence: "The federal court is not the appropriate forum in which to review the multitude of personnel decisions that are made daily by public agencies."

In dissent, Justice william j. brennan accurately commented that the Court had resurrected the "right/privilege" distinction, discredited in goldberg v. kelly (1970), and insisted that there was a federal constitutional dimension to the idea of "property" interests, not limited by state law and offering the protections of due process to legitimate expectations raised by government.

Kenneth L. Karst
(1986)