Keyishian v. Board of Regents

385 U.S. 589 (1967)

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Keyishian v. Board of Regents

United States Supreme Court
385 U.S. 589 (1967)

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Facts

New York adopted a plan to prevent the appointment or retention of subversive persons in civil employment, including in public-teaching positions. The plan was created under the Feinberg Law. The Education Code was amended so that treasonable or seditious words or acts were grounds for dismissal from public-school employment. The Civil Service Law was amended to add § 105, which stated that a person was disqualified from civil employment, including in public schools, if the person (1) advocated the overthrow of the government by force or unlawful means, (2) published or distributed material advocating overthrow, or (3) joined or organized a group advocating overthrow. Further, both the Feinberg Law and § 105 made membership in a subversive organization prima facie evidence of disqualification from public-school and civil employment. The state deemed the Communist Party a subversive organization. When the University of Buffalo, a private higher-education institution, merged with the State University of New York, a public institution, each faculty member’s continued employment was conditioned on signing a statement saying that they were not communists and had informed the president of the university if they had previously been communists. Keyishian and other faculty members (plaintiffs) refused to sign. They sued the university’s board of regents (defendant), arguing that the relevant statutes were unconstitutionally vague and that disqualifying a person from public employment based on mere membership in an organization violated the First Amendment. A district court panel upheld the laws, and the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Brennan, J.)

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