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Slochower v. Board of Education of New York

Significance

The closeness of the vote shows how the justices have been influenced by politics and current affairs. The provision in question clearly was unconstitutional, making employment conditional upon surrender of a constitutional right.

Harry Slochower was a tenured professor at Brooklyn College, an institution administered by New York City, when he was called before the Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security. It was 1952, the height of the Red Scare and anti-communist paranoia that later settled into a Cold War. Slochower told the committee that he was not himself a communist. The committee was interested in finding out if he knew others who were. Slochower was willing to answer questions about those he had associated with since 1941. About the period prior to 1941, however, he declined to testify, invoking his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.

Shortly after his appearance before the committee, Slochower received word that he had been dismissed from his job "pursuant to the provisions of Section 903 of the New York City charter." Slochower's tenure meant that he could only be fired for cause, and only after a hearing and an appeal. Section 903 of the city charter, however, made refusal to testify about matters related to official conduct equivalent to a resignation. In effect, Slochower had been forced to resign for asserting his constitutional rights.

Slochower pursued his case through the New York courts, to no avail. He then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1954 to 1962Slochower v. Board of Education of New York - Significance, Court Upholds Privilege Against Self-incrimination And Reinstates Professor, The Fifth Amendment