Petitioners were foreigners who had married US citizens and both were able to obtain citizenship but had not yet done so. In fact, they refused to become citizens but also had applied to be teachers in NY. NY law stated that non-citizen applicants who were not in the processing of seeking citizenship could not become teachers in the state. As such, petitioners were not hired on that basis and sued citing a violation of their equal protection rights.
Does a law prohibiting non-citizens/non-citizenship seeking individuals from becoming licensed teachers violate the equal protection clause of the constitution?
No, the law is valid, district court decision reversed. Justice Powell applied the rational relationship/legitimate state interest standard of scrutiny to the case because states at times have a good reason to distinguish between citizens and non-citizens in the political and governmental arena.
The court held that the legitimate government interest is the promotion of civic values, which cannot be guaranteed in hiring non-citizen teachers who may not hold similar allegiances as citizen teachers. Particularly in teachers, government has an interest in distinguishing between citizens and non-citizens because teachers highly influence younger pupils who will be responsible for the living and participating in the United States upon adulthood. They have the ability to influence democratic virtues and systematic beliefs in government and rights. The statute sought adequate narrow tailoring for this goal by allowing those teachers seeking citizenship to be teachers.