Lerner v. Casey,
357 U.S. 468 (1958)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Lerner v. Casey, 357 U.S. 468 (1958)

Lerner v. Casey

No. 165

Argued March 4, 1958

Decided June 30, 1958

357 U.S. 468


In an investigation conducted under the New York Security Risk Law, appellant, a subway conductor employed by the New York City Transit Authority, was summoned to the office of the Commissioner of Investigation of New York City and asked whether he was then a member of the Communist Party. He refused to answer, claiming his privilege against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment, and he persisted in this refusal after being warned that it might lead to his dismissal and after being given time to reconsider and to obtain counsel. Based upon this refusal, appellees found that "reasonable grounds exist for belief that, because of his doubtful trust and reliability," appellant's continued employment would endanger national and state security, and they suspended him and later discharged him after he failed to avail himself of an opportunity to submit statements or affidavits showing why he should be reinstated. Without pursuing his administrative remedies before the State Civil Service Commission, he sued in a state court for reinstatement; that court dismissed the suit; its decision was sustained by the State's highest court, and he appealed to this Court.

Held: appellant's discharge did not violate his rights under the Federal Constitution. Pp. 357 U. S. 470-479.

1. Since the constitutional questions before this Court relate primarily to the propriety of the findings made by appellees, rather than to the validity of the provisions of the state law, the appeal is dismissed; but certiorari is granted. P. 357 U. S. 473.

2. Appellant is in no position to claim that the state law deprives him of procedural due process by providing for dismissal of employees without a hearing, opportunity for cross-examination, or disclosure of the evidence upon which dismissal is based, since his own refusal to answer blocked such proceedings, and, in any event, he failed to pursue his administrative remedy. P. 357 U. S. 473.

3. Since the highest state court considered that appellant was not discharged on the ground that he was a member of the Communist Party, he cannot claim that the statute offends due process by making it possible to base dismissal of an employee on mere

Page 357 U. S. 469

present membership in the Communist Party without regard to the character of such membership. Pp. 357 U. S. 474-475.

4. The manner in which the Security Risk Law was applied to appellant did not violate his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 357 U. S. 475-479.

(a) The highest state court held that appellant's discharge was not based upon any inference of Communist Party membership drawn from the exercise of his Fifth Amendment privilege, nor upon the assertion of that constitutional protection, but rather upon a finding of "doubtful trust and reliability" based upon his lack of candor in refusing to answer questions relevant to his employment put to him by his employer. Pp. 357 U. S. 475-476.

(b) Slochower v. Board of Higher Education, 350 U. S. 551, distinguished. Pp. 357 U. S. 476-477.

(c) New York's classification of employees found to be of doubtful trust and reliability as "security risks" is not so arbitrary as to be constitutionally impermissible when applied to one in appellant's position. P. 357 U. S. 478.

(d) Appellant's assertion of his Fifth Amendment privilege in these state proceedings did not preclude the State from concluding that his failure to answer questions relevant to his employment engendered reasonable doubt as to his trustworthiness and reliability. Pp. 357 U. S. 478-479.

2 N.Y.2d 355,141 N.E.2d 553, affirmed.

Page 357 U. S. 470

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