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Ambach v. Norwick


A state may bar aliens from government positions with a high degree of responsibility and discretion.

New York law normally denied certification as a public school teacher to noncitizens, unless they declared their intention to acquire citizenship. Susan Norwick was a British subject who moved to the United States in 1965 and married a U.S. citizen. Tara Dachinger, a Finnish subject, came to America in 1966 and also married a U.S. citizen. Although both met the educational requirements for certification, they consistently refused to apply for citizenship. Norwick and Dachinger each applied for a teaching certificate covering nursery school through sixth grade. When their applications were denied, they sued in the district court.

The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments guarantee all "persons" due process of law and equal protection. The Supreme Court thus has ruled that residents enjoy these rights, whether they be citizens or aliens. However, the Court has tended to grant some leeway to the federal government, which has paramount authority over aliens. Aliens are entitled to the procedural protections of the Fifth Amendment, but the federal government has the authority to deny welfare benefits to aliens and to exclude them from civil service jobs.

The Court has upheld stricter standards against the states. In Graham v. Richardson (1971), the Court declared that state laws discriminating against aliens would be subject to its "strict scrutiny." Aliens form a discrete and politically powerless minority. Laws applying exclusively to aliens must be confined within narrow boundaries.

The Norwick case reached the distinct district court in 1976. Applying the "close juridical scrutiny" standard of Graham v. Richardson, the district court declared that New York had violated the Equal Protection Clause. The New York law, it stated, was too broadly written, since it excluded all aliens from all public school teaching jobs.

New York appealed this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision, it reversed the district court and declared the New York law constitutional. Justice Powell wrote the majority decision, joined by Justices Burger, Stewart, Rehnquist, and White. Justice Blackmun wrote the dissenting opinion, joined by Brennan, Marshall, and Stevens.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980Ambach v. Norwick - Significance, Only Citizens Can Perform The Basic Tasks Of Government, They Want To Teach, But They Don't Want To Be Americans