Ambach v. Norwick

PETITIONER:Gordon M. Ambach
RESPONDENT:Susan M. W. Norwick and Tarja U. K. Dachinger
LOCATION:New York State Education Department

DOCKET NO.: 76-808
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)

CITATION: 441 US 68 (1979)
ARGUED: Jan 10, 1979
DECIDED: Apr 17, 1979

Bruce J. Ennis, Jr. – argued the cause for the appellees
Judith A. Gordon – argued the cause for the appellant

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.”


Did the New York statute violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Ambach v. Norwick

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – January 10, 1979 in Ambach v. Norwick

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – April 17, 1979 in Ambach v. Norwick

Warren E. Burger:

Mr. Justice Powell has two opinions which he will announce.

Lewis F. Powell, Jr.:

The first is in 76-808, Ambach against Norwick.

This case presents the question whether New York may impose a citizenship requirement upon its public school teachers.

A three-judge District Court in the Southern District of New York held that this requirement excluding the resident aliens violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Although the exclusion of aliens from fields of private employment generally serves no legitimate state interest.

The constitution and our decisions have made clear that states properly may limit participation of aliens in at least certain governmental functions.

Only last term we upheld New York’s citizenship requirement with respect to police officers because of the important role of the police function in the exercise of governmental authority.

For essentially the same reasons we think teaching in the public schools also constitutes a governmental function that may be confined to citizens.

Teachers, both through the instruction they give and the example they set shape the basic attitudes of children toward our democratic form of government, the political processes of this country and the obligations of American citizenship.

We think a state rationally may decide that only those persons who have made an unequivocal legal commitment to our form of government through the tie of citizenship should be entrusted with this important responsibility.

Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the court below.

We also note that the resident aliens who brought this suit could have qualified to teach under the New York law by applying for United States citizenship.

They were eligible and free to do this but preferred to retain their citizenship allegiance to other countries.

Mr. Justice Blackmun has filed a dissenting opinion in which Mr. Justice Brennan, Mr. Justice Marshall, and Mr. Justice Stevens have joined.