Slochower v. Board of Education of New York City

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350 U.S. 551 (1956), argued 18–19 Oct. 1955, decided 9 Apr. 1956, by vote of 5 to 4; Clark for the Court, Reed, Burton, Minton, and Harlan in dissent. At a hearing of a congressional committee investigating subversion in education, a tenured faculty member at Brooklyn College stated that he was not a communist, that he was willing to testify about his associations since 1941, but claimed the self-incrimination privilege about inquires concerning activities in 1940–1941. The New York City Charter provided that if an employee of the city used the privilege against self-incrimination to avoid answering a question relating to his official conduct, his tenure of employment would terminate. Acting under this provision, the Board of Education discharged Slochower without affording him the usual hearing for tenured faculty members.

The Supreme Court held the provision of the charter was unconstitutional, and that the summary dismissal violated the Due Process Clause. The provision of the charter, as applied in the case, had converted the constitutional privilege into a conclusive presumption of guilt; there was no inquiry into the faculty member's fitness; his dismissal was based solely on events occurring before a congressional committee. The Court held that the action of the Board of Education fell squarely within the prohibition of Wieman v. Updegraff (1952). The dissenters contended that a state may justifiably conclude that teachers who refuse to answer questions concerning their official conduct are no longer qualified to teach. The case has been limited by Lerner v. Casey (1958) and Nelson v. County of Los Angeles (1960), which in turn may have been limited by Gardner v. Broderick (1968).

Milton R. Konvitz

Subjects: Law.

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