385 U.S. 589 (1967), argued 17 Nov. 1966, decided 23 Jan. 1967 by vote of 5 to 4; Brennan for the Court, Clark, Harlan, Stewart, and White in dissent. In this case the Court declared unconstitutional New York statutes and administrative rules designed to prevent employment of “subversive” teachers and professors in state educational institutions and to dismiss them if found guilty of “treasonable or seditious” acts. The Board of Regents of New York had prepared a list of subversive organizations, including the Communist party, membership in which was sufficient reason for a teacher's disqualification. Originally there was also an oath requirement, but this was rescinded by the regents.
The Court held that the proscription of “treasonable or seditious” conduct and of “advocacy” of violent overthrow was unconstitutional for vagueness: a teacher could not foretell whether statements about abstract doctrine were prohibited or whether only speech intended to incite action was grounds for dismissal. The complexity of the New York plan aggravated the vice of vagueness. The Court also held that the statutes were unconstitutional because they did not require that the teacher have specific intent to further the illegal aims of a proscribed organization and hence were overly broad. The decision's importance lay in its rejection of a state's power to make public employment conditional on surrendering constitutional rights that could not otherwise be abridged by direct state action as well as in its emphasis on academic freedom.
Milton R. Konvitz