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Keyishian v. Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York

Significance

In Keyishian, the Court upheld the principle of educational freedom and at the same time did away with the state's ability to force an individual to surrender constitutional rights as a condition of employment.

New York State first passed a law prohibiting those charged with treasonous words or acts from teaching in the public school system in 1917. In 1939, the state passed another law that disqualified anyone who advocated violent overthrow of the government or who belonged to an organization that advocated such a doctrine from employment in the educational system or the civil service. The 1939 law charged the State Board of Regents with drawing up procedures for disqualification, as well as a list of "subversive" organizations, such as the Communist Party. The board was also directed to state in its regulations that membership in any of the listed organizations constituted evidence for disqualification. A 1953 amendment to the 1939 law--passed during the height of the McCarthy era communist witch hunts that poisoned the atmosphere of the early 1950s--extended its application to include personnel at any institution of higher education operated by the state.

Harry Keyishian was an instructor in English at the privately owned and operated University of Buffalo in 1962 when it was merged with the publicly supported State University of New York. When he refused to comply with the state requirement that he sign a certificate stating that he was not a communist, his one-year teaching contract was not renewed. Together with other instructors who refused to sign, he brought an action in federal court claiming that the state laws and regulations at issue were unconstitutional. After the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York ruled against Keyishian, he appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1963 to 1972Keyishian v. Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York - Significance, Supreme Court Upholds Principle Of Academic Freedom