Sugarman v. Dougall


Appellant was an illegal alien who was formerly employed by an organization that was merged with a New York state agency.  Under New York law, however, illegal aliens were not permitted to be state employees and he was fired as a result.  He and other similarly situated non-citizens sued under the equal protection clause of the constitution.  The state argued that the governmental interest in the policy involved issues of state loyalty, where a non-citizen might have allegiance or preference for their home country over the state or nation’s interest.


Whether a law prohibiting non-citizens from serving in state offices violates the equal protection clause of the constitution.


Yes, the law is unconstitutional and therefore invalid.  The court argued that there was a legitimate interest in having civil servants loyal to their nation/state.  However, the law as written was too broad (not narrowly tailored enough).

The court wrote that aliens were of a “discrete minority” and therefore deserved heightened protection in the form of heightened scrutiny.  The court believed that the law was not narrowly tailored enough and swept too broadly against the protected class of aliens.  The law did not qualify which positions were necessary for the ban on employment and which were not.  The law, in the instant case, applied to sanitation workers and other low level jobs where state loyalty played no role whatsoever in their professional duties.  Therefore, the law could have been better tailored by stating that non-citizens shall not be employed in positions of administrative, executive, or decision making power.

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