Ambach v. Norwick Case Brief

Why is the case important?

The Respondents, Norwick and Dachinger, are resident aliens denied teaching certificates by the State of New York solely on the grounds of their lack of United States citizenship.

Facts of the case

“Susan Norwick and Tarja Dachinger were both foreign nationals who had resided in the United States for many years and were married to United States citizens. Both were eligible for citizenship, but had refused to apply. Both had applied for certification as public school teachers in New York State. New York law prohibited the certification of non-citizen teachers who had not sought citizenship. Both applications were denied certification solely on that ground. Norwick filed suit in federal district court, which Dachinger later joined. The three-judge district court ruled in their favor, arguing that the statute as “”overbroad.”””


May the State deny teaching certification on the basis of alienage without violating the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause?


Yes. Appeals Court ruling reversed and remanded.
Justice Lewis Powell (J. Powell) argues that the unequivocal bond that citizenship establishes makes it a rational distinguishing trait for the purposes of a state exercising its governmental functions. This he compares to the police power discussed in Foley, 435 U.S. 291 (1978).
In particular, J. Powell notes that a teacher has an opportunity to influence the attitudes of students toward government, the political process, and a citizen’s social responsibilities. An oath of allegiance, he feels, is not a suitable substitute for citizenship itself.


“The Court found that because public school teachers fell within the previously recognized “”governmental function”” principle, the United States Constitution required only that a citizenship requirement applicable to teaching in the public schools have a rational relationship to a legitimate state interest. The Court found that the State had a legitimate state interest in furthering educational goals, and the restriction was carefully framed to serve its purpose, as it barred from obtaining a New York teaching credential only those aliens who had demonstrated their unwillingness to obtain citizenship. Therefore, the statute did not violate the Equal Protection Clause.”

  • Case Brief: 1979
  • Appellant: Gordon M. Ambach
  • Appellee: Susan M. W. Norwick and Tarja U. K. Dachinger
  • Decided by: Burger Court

Citation: 441 US 68 (1979)
Argued: Jan 10, 1979
Decided: Apr 17, 1979