A New York statute forbidding permanent certification as a public school teacher of any person who is not a United States citizen unless that person has manifested an intention to apply for citizenship, does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 72-81.
(a) As a general principle some state functions are so bound up with the operation of the State as a governmental entity as to permit exclusion from those functions of all persons who have not become part of the process of self-government. Accordingly, a State is required to justify its exclusion of aliens from such governmental positions only "by a showing of some rational relationship between the interest sought to be protected and the limiting classification." Foley v. Connelie, 435 U.S. 291, 296 . Pp. 73-74.
(b) This rule for governmental functions, which is an exception to the stricter general standard applicable to classifications based on alienage, rests on important principles inherent in the Constitution. The distinction between citizens and aliens, though ordinarily irrelevant to private activity, is fundamental to the definition and government of a State, and the references to such distinction in the Constitution itself indicate that the status of citizenship was meant to have significance in the structure of our government. It is because of this special significance of citizenship that governmental entities, when exercising the functions of government, have wider latitude in limiting the participation of noncitizens. P. 75.
(c) Taking into consideration the role of public education and the degree of responsibility and discretion teachers possess in fulfilling that role, it is clear that public school teachers come well within the "governmental function" principle recognized in Sugarman v. Dougall, 413 U.S. 634 , and Foley v. Connelie, supra, and, accordingly, the Constitution requires only that a citizenship requirement applicable to teaching in the public school bear a rational relationship to a legitimate state interest. Pp. 75-80. [441 U.S. 68, 69]
(d) Here, the statute in question does bear a rational relationship to the State's interest in furthering its educational goals, especially with respect to regarding all teachers as having an obligation to promote civic virtues and understanding in their classes, regardless of the subject taught. Pp. 80-81.
MR. JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case presents the question whether a State, consistently with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, may refuse to employ as elementary and secondary school teachers aliens who are eligible for United States citizenship but who refuse to seek naturalization.
New York Education Law 3001 (3) (McKinney 1970) forbids certification as a public school teacher of any person who is not a citizen of the United States, unless that person has [441 U.S. 68, 70] manifested an intention to apply for citizenship. 1 The Commissioner of Education is authorized to create exemptions from this prohibition, and has done so with respect to aliens who are not yet eligible for citizenship. 2 Unless a teacher obtains certification, he may not work in a public elementary or secondary school in New York. 3 [441 U.S. 68, 71]
Appellee Norwick was born in Scotland and is a subject of Great Britain. She has resided in this country since 1965 and is married to a United States citizen. Appellee Dachinger is a Finnish subject who came to this country in 1966 and also is married to a United States citizen. Both Norwick and Dachinger currently meet all of the educational requirements New York has set for certification as a public school teacher, but they consistently have refused to seek citizenship in spite of their eligibility to do so. Norwick applied in 1973 for a teaching certificate covering nursery school through sixth grade, and Dachinger sought a certificate covering the same grades in 1975. 4 Both applications were denied because of appellees' failure to meet the requirements of 3001 (3). Norwick then filed this suit seeking to enjoin the enforcement of 3001 (3), and Dachinger obtained leave to intervene as a plaintiff.
A three-judge District Court was convened pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 2281 (1970 ed.). Applying the "close judicial scrutiny" standard of Graham v. Richardson, 403 U.S. 365, 372 (1971), the court held that 3001 (3) discriminated against aliens in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Norwick v. Nyquist, 417 F. Supp. 913 (SDNY 1976). The court believed that the statute was overbroad, because it excluded all resident aliens from all teaching jobs regardless of the subject sought to be taught, the alien's nationality, the nature of the [441 U.S. 68, 72] alien's relationship to this country, and the alien's willingness to substitute some other sign of loyalty to this Nation's political values, such as an oath of allegiance. Id., at 921. We noted probable jurisdiction over the state school officials' appeal, 436 U.S. 902 (1978), and now reverse.
The decisions of this Court regarding the permissibility of statutory classifications involving aliens have not formed an unwavering line over the years. State regulation of the employment of aliens long has been subject to constitutional constraints. In Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356 (1886), the Court struck down an ordinance which was applied to prevent aliens from running laundries, and in Truax v. Raich, 239 U.S. 33 (1915), a law requiring at least 80% of the employees of certain businesses to be citizens was held to be an unconstitutional infringement of an alien's "right to work for a living in the common occupations of the community . . . ." Id., at 41. At the same time, however, the Court also has recognized a greater degree of latitude for the States when aliens were sought to be excluded from public employment. At the time Truax was decided, the governing doctrine permitted States to exclude aliens from various activities when the restriction pertained to "the regulation or distribution of the public domain, or of the common property or resources of the people of the State . . . ." Id., at 39. Hence, as part of a larger authority to forbid aliens from owning land. Frick v. Webb, 263 U.S. 326 (1923); Webb v. O'Brien, 263 U.S. 313 (1923); Porterfield v. Webb, 263 U.S. 225 (1923); Terrace v. Thompson, 263 U.S. 197 (1923); Blythe v. Hinckley, 180 U.S. 333 (1901); Hauenstein v. Lynham, 100 U.S. 483 (1880); harvesting wildlife, Patsone v. Pennsylvania, 232 U.S. 138 (1914); McCready v. Virginia, 94 U.S. 391 (1877); [441 U.S. 68, 73] or maintaining an inherently dangerous enterprise, Ohio ex rel. Clarke v. Deckebach, 274 U.S. 392 (1927), States permissibly could exclude aliens from working on public construction projects, Crane v. New York, 239 U.S. 195 (1915), and, it appears, from engaging in any form of public employment at all, see Truax, supra, at 40.
Over time, the Court's decisions gradually have restricted the activities from which States are free to exclude aliens. The first sign that the Court would question the constitutionality of discrimination against aliens even in areas affected with a "public interest" appeared in Oyama v. California, 332 U.S. 633 (1948). The Court there held that statutory presumptions designed to discourage evasion of California's ban on alien landholding discriminated against the citizen children of aliens. The same Term, the Court held that the "ownership" a State exercises over fish found in its territorial waters "is inadequate to justify California in excluding any or all aliens who are lawful residents of the State from making a living by fishing in the ocean off its shores while permitting all others to do so." Takahashi v. Fish & Game Comm'n, 334 U.S. 410, 421 (1948). This process of withdrawal from the former doctrine culminated in Graham v. Richardson, supra, which for the first time treated classifications based on alienage as "inherently suspect and subject to close judicial scrutiny." 403 U.S., at 372 . Applying Graham, this Court has held invalid statutes that prevented aliens from entering a State's classified civil service, Sugarman v. Dougall, 413 U.S. 634 (1973), practicing law, In re Griffiths, 413 U.S. 717 (1973), working as an engineer, Examining Board v. Flores de Otero, 426 U.S. 572 (1976), and receiving state educational benefits, Nyquist v. Mauclet, 432 U.S. 1 (1977).
Although our more recent decisions have departed substantially from the public-interest doctrine of Truax's day, they have not abandoned the general principle that some state functions are so bound up with the operation of the State as [441 U.S. 68, 74] a governmental entity as to permit the exclusion from those functions of all persons who have not become part of the process of self-government. In Sugarman, we recognized that a State could, "in an appropriately defined class of positions, require citizenship as a qualification for office." We went on to observe:
"Such power inheres in the State by virtue of its obligation, already noted above, `to preserve the basic conception of a political community.'. . . And this power and responsibility of the State applies, not only to the qualifications of voters, but also to persons holding state elective or important nonelective executive, legislative, and judicial positions, for officers who participate directly in the formulation, execution, or review of broad public policy perform functions that go to the heart of representative government." 413 U.S., at 647 (citation omitted).
The exclusion of aliens from such governmental positions would not invite as demanding scrutiny from this Court. Id., at 648. See also Nyquist v. Mauclet, supra, at 11; Perkins v. Smith, 370 F. Supp. 134 (Md. 1974), summarily aff'd, 426 U.S. 913 (1976).
Applying the rational-basis standard, we held last Term that New York could exclude aliens from the ranks of its police force. Foley v. Connelie, 435 U.S. 291 (1978). Because the police function fulfilled "a most fundamental obligation of government to its constituency" and by necessity cloaked policemen with substantial discretionary powers, we viewed the police force as being one of those appropriately defined classes of positions for which a citizenship requirement could be imposed. Id., at 297. Accordingly, the State was required to justify its classification only "by a showing of some rational relationship between the interest sought to be protected and the limiting classification." Id., at 296. [441 U.S. 68, 75]
The rule for governmental functions, which is an exception to the general standard applicable to classifications based on alienage, rests on important principles inherent in the Constitution. The distinction between citizens and aliens, though ordinarily irrelevant to private activity, is fundamental to the definition and government of a State. The Constitution itself refers to the distinction no less than 11 times, see Sugarman v. Dougall, supra, at 651-652 (REHNQUIST, J., dissenting), indicating that the status of citizenship was meant to have significance in the structure of our government. The assumption of that status, whether by birth or naturalization, denotes an association with the polity which, in a democratic republic, exercises the powers of governance. See Foley v. Connelie, supra, at 295. The form of this association is important: an oath of allegiance or similar ceremony cannot substitute for the unequivocal legal bond citizenship represents. It is because of this special significance of citizenship that governmental entities, when exercising the functions of government, have wider latitude in limiting the participation of noncitizens. 5
In determining whether, for purposes of equal protection analysis, teaching in public schools constitutes a governmental function, we look to the role of public education and to the degree of responsibility and discretion teachers possess in fulfilling that role. See Foley v. Connelie, supra, at 297. Each of these considerations supports the conclusion that public school teachers may be regarded as performing a task "that [441 U.S. 68, 76] go[es] to the heart of representative government." Sugarman v. Dougall, supra, at 647. 6
Public education, like the police function, "fulfills a most fundamental obligation of government to its constituency." Foley, supra, at 297. The importance of public schools in the preparation of individuals for participation as citizens, and in the preservation of the values on which our society rests, long has been recognized by our decisions:
"Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education [441 U.S. 68, 77] both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment." Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, 493 (1954).
See also Keyes v. School Dist. No. 1, Denver, Colo., 413 U.S. 189, 246 (1973) (POWELL, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part); San Antonio Independent School Dist. v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 29 -30 (1973); Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 213 (1972); id., at 238-239 (WHITE, J., concurring); Abington School Dist. v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 230 (1963) (BRENNAN, J., concurring); Adler v. Board of Education, 342 U.S. 485, 493 (1952); McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S. 203, 212 (1948) (opinion of Frankfurter, J.); Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925); Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923); Interstate Consolidated Street R. Co. v. Massachusetts, 207 U.S. 79 (1907). 7 Other authorities have perceived public schools as an "assimilative force" by which diverse and conflicting elements in our society are brought together on a broad but common ground. See, e. g., J. Dewey, Democracy and Education 26 (1929); N. Edwards & H. Richey, The School in the American Social Order 623-624 (2d ed. 1963). These perceptions of the public schools as inculcating fundamental values necessary to the maintenance of a democratic political system have been confirmed by the observations of social scientists. See R. Dawson [441 U.S. 68, 78] & K. Prewitt, Political Socialization 146-167 (1969); R. Hess & J. Torney, The Development of Political Attitudes in Children 114, 158-171, 217-220 (1967); V. Key, Public Opinion and American Democracy 323-343 (1961). 8
Within the public school system, teachers play a critical part in developing students' attitude toward government and understanding of the role of citizens in our society. Alone among employees of the system, teachers are in direct, day-to-day contact with students both in the classrooms and in the other varied activities of a modern school. In shaping the students' experience to achieve educational goals, teachers by necessity have wide discretion over the way the course material is communicated to students. They are responsible for presenting and explaining the subject matter in a way that is both comprehensible and inspiring. No amount of standardization of teaching materials or lesson plans can eliminate the personal qualities a teacher brings to bear in achieving these goals. Further, a teacher serves as a role model for his students, exerting a subtle but important influence over their [441 U.S. 68, 79] perceptions and values. Thus, through both the presentation of course materials and the example he sets, a teacher has an opportunity to influence the attitudes of students toward government, the political process, and a citizen's social responsibilities. 9 This influence is crucial to the continued good health of a democracy. 10
Furthermore, it is clear that all public school teachers, and not just those responsible for teaching the courses most directly related to government, history, and civic duties, should [441 U.S. 68, 80] help fulfill the broader function of the public school system. 11 Teachers, regardless of their specialty, may be called upon to teach other subjects, including those expressly dedicated to political and social subjects. 12 More importantly, a State properly may regard all teachers as having an obligation to promote civic virtues and understanding in their classes, regardless of the subject taught. Certainly a State also may take account of a teacher's function as an example for students, which exists independently of particular classroom subjects. In light of the foregoing considerations, we think it clear that public school teachers come well within the "governmental function" principle recognized in Sugarman and Foley. Accordingly, the Constitution requires only that a citizenship requirement applicable to teaching in the public schools bear a rational relationship to a legitimate state interest. See Massachusetts Board of Retirement v. Murgia, 427 U.S. 307, 314 (1976).
As the legitimacy of the State's interest in furthering the educational goals outlined above is undoubted, it remains only to consider whether 3001 (3) bears a rational relationship to this interest. The restriction is carefully framed to serve its purpose, as it bars from teaching only those aliens who have demonstrated their unwillingness to obtain United States citizenship. 13 Appellees, and aliens similarly situated, in effect have chosen to classify themselves. They prefer to retain citizenship in a foreign country with the obligations it entails [441 U.S. 68, 81] of primary duty and loyalty. 14 They have rejected the open invitation extended to qualify for eligibility to teach by applying for citizenship in this country. The people of New York, acting through their elected representatives, have made a judgment that citizenship should be a qualification for teaching the young of the State in the public schools, and 3001 (3) furthers that judgment. 15