Kelley v. Johnson

LOCATION: Vermillion Police Station

DOCKET NO.: 74-1269
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 425 US 238 (1976)
ARGUED: Dec 08, 1975
DECIDED: Apr 05, 1976

James Van R. Springer - for International Brotherhood of Police Officers, amicus curiae
Leonard D. Wexler - for respondent; Richard T
Patrick A. Sweeney - for petitioner; Howard E

Facts of the case

In 1971 the predecessor of the defender as the president of the Suffolk County Patrolmen's Benevolent Association alleged the claim against the predecessor of the appellant, the Commissioner of the Suffolk County Police Department. The complaint was grounded under the Civil Rights Act of 1871 that enacted the rules regarding the hair style and length, the prohibition of the beards for the policemen.

The defender was the Kelley, policemen, who tried to protect his right to chose and wore the hairstyle that he wanted but was prohibited under the mentioned regulations. He argued that his rights to free expressions under the First Amendment were violated by such legal prescriptions. Moreover, he claimed that his guarantee of due process and equal protection accordingly to the Fourteen Amendment were breached by such restriction of policemen hairstyle that was not significantly important for public interests.

The District Court refused respondent's objections regarding the relevance of the Civil Rights Act provisions on the standard of policemen hair look. The respondent brought the claim before the Court of Appeals. The judges canceled the previous decision in Kelley v. Johnson and ordered the District Court to provide testimonies and then granted the release of sought. The case was handed out to the Supreme Court of the USA.

Through hearing Kelley v Johnson case of 1976 the judges determined that such police regulation didn`t violate the rights under the Fourteen Amendment, as it didn`t define precise frameworks of protection for liberty to choose personal appearance.

Moreover, the issue to control how policemen should look like and what hairstyle they should wear was more important to be maintained in public interest. It was explained by the security need that the citizens should have the opportunity to identify police officers by the similar forms, appearance including usual hairstyle to be sure that they have addressed to the police officers.

Hence, the court granted certiorari and reversed the decision in Kelley v. Johnson to provide the exercising of Court of Appeal ruling.


Media for Kelley v. Johnson

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 08, 1975 in Kelley v. Johnson

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 05, 1976 in Kelley v. Johnson

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in number 74-1269, Kelley, the Commissioner of Suffolk County Police Department v. Johnson will be announced by Mr. Justice Rehnquist.

William H. Rehnquist:

This case involves the constitutionality of a regulation limiting the length of a policeman's hair.

Respondent policemen is the president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association in Suffolk County, Long Island, New York.

In 1971, his predecessor brought an action in the District Court under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, against petitioner's predecessor, the Commissioner of the Suffolk County Police Department, claiming principally that the commissioner's order establishing hair-length standards violated his liberty under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The District Court dismissed his complaint but the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York reversed saying that the choice of personal appearances is an ingredient of an individual's personal liberty protected under the Fourteenth Amendment, and that the police department had the burden of establishing a genuine public need for the regulation.

When the case went back to the District Court, the District Court ruled in favor of respondent policeman and that judgment was affirmed by the Court of Appeals again.

Because we hold that the hair-length regulation challenged here did not violate any right guaranteed respondent by the Fourteenth Amendment, we reverse; respondent has sought constitutional protection from the hair-length regulation not as an ordinary citizen but as an employee of the police force of Suffolk County.

This status affords the state wider latitude in imposing restrictive regulations as part of a mode of organization which it has chosen as the most efficient in enabling the police force to carry out the duties assigned to it under state and local law.

This choice of organizational structures entitled to the same sort of the same sort presumption of legislative validity as their choices designed to promote other aims within the state's police power and the burden is therefore on respondent, the policeman in this case to demonstrate that there is no rational relationship between the regulation based as it is on the state's method of organizing its police force and the promotion of safety of persons and property.

The District Court's initial dismissal was therefore correct.

We believe that matters not whether the choice of a uniform police force reflects a desire on the part of Suffolk County to make police officers readily recognizable to the public on the one hand, or foster its predictor on the other hand.

Either justification is sufficiently rational to defeat respondent's claim based on the liberty guarantee of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Mr. Justice Powell has filed a concurring opinion.

Mr. Justice Marshall has filed a dissenting opinion in which Mr. Justice Brennan has joined.

Mr. Justice Stevens took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you, Mr. Justice Rehnquist.