Keyishian v. Board of Regents, 385 U.S. 589; 87 S. Ct. 675; 17 L. Ed. 2d 629 (1967)

Keyishian v. Board of Regents, 385 U.S. 589; 87 S. Ct. 675; 17 L. Ed. 2d 629 (1967)

Facts—Faculty members of the State University of New York at Buffalo refused to sign a required certificate that they were not, and had never been, Communists. Each was notified that his failure to sign the certificate would require his dismissal. Faculty members brought action for declaratory and injunctive relief.

Question—Does this state program violate the First Amendment as applied to the states by the due process provision of the Fourteenth Amendment?


ReasonsJ. Brennan (5–4). There can be no doubt of the legitimacy of New York’s interest in protecting its education system from subversion. Nevertheless, First Amendment freedoms need breathing space to survive, and therefore government may regulate in the area only with narrow specificity. New York’s complicated and intricate scheme plainly violates that standard. Vagueness of wording is aggravated by prolixity; by a profusion of statutes, regulations, and administrative machinery; and by manifold cross-references to interrelated enactments and rules. The Court noted that there was “extraordinary ambiguity” in terms used in the regulations and that the whole was unconstitutionally vague. Such regulations have a chilling effect on the exercise of First Amendment rights.

The Court overruled its holding in Adler v. Board of Education, 342 U.S. 485 (1952), noting that “constitutional doctrine which has emerged since that decision has rejected its major premise. That premise was that public employment, including academic employment, may be conditioned upon the surrender of constitutional rights which could not be abridged by direct government action.”

The Court concluded that mere membership without a specific intent to further the unlawful aims of an organization is not a constitutionally adequate basis for exclusion from such positions as were here involved. Thus, these regulations infringed on the freedom of association.

J. Clark, dissenting, argued that the issues posed in this case were largely hypothetical in light of changes that had occurred in board policies.

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