Foley v. Connelie,
435 U.S. 291 (1978)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Foley v. Connelie, 435 U.S. 291 (1978)

Foley v. Connelie

No. 76-839

Argued November 8, 1977

Decided March 22, 1978

435 U.S. 291


New York statute limiting appointment of members of state police force to citizens of the United States held not to violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 435 U. S. 294-300.

(a) Citizenship may be a relevant qualification for fulfilling those "important nonelective . . . positions" held by "officers who participate directly in the formulation, execution, or review of broad public policy," Sugarman v. Dougall, 413 U. S. 634, 413 U. S. 647. Strict equal protection scrutiny is not required to justify classifications applicable to such positions; a State need only show some rational relationship between the interest sought to be protected and the limiting classification. In deciding what level of scrutiny is to be applied, each position in question must be examined to determine whether it involves discretionary decisionmaking, or execution of policy, which substantially affects members of the political community. Pp. 435 U. S. 294-297.

(b) Police officials are clothed with authority to exercise an almost infinite variety of discretionary powers, calling for a very high degree of judgment and discretion, the exercise of which can seriously affect individuals. Police officers fall within the category of "important noneglective . . . officers who participate directly in the . . . execution . . . of broad public policy." Dougall, supra at 413 U. S. 647 (emphasis added). In the enforcement and execution of the laws, the police function is one where citizenship bears a rational relationship to the special demands of the particular position, and a State may therefore confine the performance of this important public responsibility to those who are citizens. Pp. 435 U. S. 297-300.

419 F.Supp. 889, affirmed.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEWART, WHITE, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. STEWART, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 435 U. S. 300. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the result, post, p. 435 U. S. 300. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 435 U. S. 302. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 435 U. S. 307.

Page 435 U. S. 292

Primary Holding

Classifications based on alienage should be evaluated under a rational basis standard, as long as the state is acting within the powers constitutionally permitted to it.


Foley, a foreign national living in New York, applied to take the examination to become a state trooper. His application was denied under a New York law that limited police officers to American citizens. Foley brought a class action on behalf of foreign nationals seeking to become police officers and argued that this law violated the Equal Protection Clause, but the lower court ruled that it was constitutional.



  • Warren Earl Burger (Author)
  • Potter Stewart
  • Byron Raymond White
  • Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr.
  • William Hubbs Rehnquist

Strict scrutiny review is not appropriate for classifications that are based on citizenship, since holding U.S. citizenship has a significant inherent value. This means that restraints on foreign nationals are not inherently invalid or suspect, and states may exclude foreign nationals from participating in organs of government such as the police force. Rational basis review is the appropriate standard for an exclusion based on citizenship. The police function relates to a fundamental obligation of the state to its residents, and working in the police force requires involvement in crafting policies and enforcing the laws. Citizenship has a rational relationship to the role of the police in exercising their discretionary powers to protect citizens.


  • Thurgood Marshall (Author)
  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr.
  • John Paul Stevens

Other public employees, such as sanitation workers or firefighters, also are required to execute public policy. In those settings, discrimination against non-citizens is presumed to be unconstitutional. Police officers are not so different from people in those positions that courts should carve out a narrow exception to the rule on alienage classifications. Any exception should be limited to creating government policy pursuant to authority delegated by the legislature, rather than simply performing government duties. This more stringent definition of the exception does not include police officers. The majority also should have defined the group characteristic of foreign nationals that permits discrimination more clearly in order to determine whether it applies in a case.


  • Potter Stewart (Author)


  • Harry Andrew Blackmun (Author)


  • John Paul Stevens (Author)
  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr.

Case Commentary

If the state has a constitutional prerogative to make certain laws that appear discriminatory against protected groups, the standard of review lowers from strict scrutiny to rational basis. This has an immense impact on the outcome of the case because the burden of proof shifts from the government to the individual.

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