Shelton v. Tucker/Dissent Harlan

Shelton v. Tucker, 364 U.S. 479 (1960)
Dissenting Opinion by John Marshall Harlan II
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Linked case(s):
231 Ark. 641
174 F. Supp. 351
364 U.S. 479

Mr. Justice Harlan, whom Mr. Justice Frankfurter, Mr. Justice Clark and Mr. Justice Whittaker join, dissenting.

Of course this decision has a natural tendency to enlist support, involving as it does an unusual statute that touches constitutional rights whose protection in the context of the racial situation in various parts of the country [p497] demands the unremitting vigilance of the courts. Yet that very circumstance also serves to remind of the restraints that attend constitutional adjudication. It must be emphasized that neither of these cases actually presents an issue of racial discrimination. The statute on its face applies to all Arkansas teachers irrespective of race, and there is no showing that it has been discriminatorily administered.

The issue is whether, consistently with the Fourteenth Amendment, a State may require teachers in its public schools or colleges to disclose, as a condition precedent to their initial or continued employment, all organizations to which they have belonged, paid dues, or contributed within the past five years. Since I believe that such a requirement cannot be said to transgress the constitutional limits of a State's conceded authority to determine the qualifications of those serving it as teachers, I am bound to consider that Arkansas had the right to pass the statute in question, and therefore conceive it my duty to dissent.

The legal framework in which the issue must be judged is clear. The rights of free speech and association embodied in the "liberty" assured against state action by the Fourteenth Amendment (see De Jonge v. Oregon, 299 U.S. 353, 364; Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652, 672, dissenting opinion of Holmes, J.) are not absolute. Near v. Minnesota, 283 U.S. 697, 708; Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357, 373 (concurring opinion of Brandeis, J.). Where official action is claimed to invade these rights, the controlling inquiry is whether such action is justifiable on the basis of a superior governmental interest to which such individual rights must yield. When the action complained of pertains to the realm of investigation, our inquiry has a double aspect: first, whether the investigation relates to a legitimate governmental purpose; second, whether, judged in the light of that purpose, the ques- [p498] tioned action has substantial relevance thereto. See Barenblatt v. United States, 360 U.S. 109; Uphaus v. Wyman, 360 U.S. 72.

In the two cases at hand, I think both factors are satisfied. It is surely indisputable that a State has the right to choose its teachers on the basis of fitness. And I think it equally clear, as the Court appears to recognize, that information about a teacher's associations may be useful to school authorities in determining the moral, professional, and social qualifications of the teacher, as well as in determining the type of service for which he will be best suited in the educational system. See Adler v. Board of Education, 342 U.S. 485; Beilan v. Board of Public Education, 357 U.S. 399; see also Slochower v. Board of Higher Education, 350 U.S. 551. Furthermore, I take the Court to acknowledge that, agreeably to our previous decisions, the State may enquire into associations to the extent that the resulting information may be in aid of that legitimate purpose. These cases therefore do not present a situation such as we had in N.A.A.C.P. v. Alabama, 357 U.S. 449, and Bates v. Little Rock, 361 U.S. 516, where the required disclosure bears no substantial relevance to a legitimate state interest.

Despite these considerations this statute is stricken down because, in the Court's view, it is too broad, because it asks more than may be necessary to effectuate the State's legitimate interest. Such a statute, it is said, cannot justify the inhibition on freedom of association which so blanket an inquiry may entail. Cf. N.A.A.C.P. v. Alabama, supra; Bates v. Little Rock, supra.

I am unable to subscribe to this view because I believe it impossible to determine a priori the place where the line should be drawn between what would be permissible inquiry and over broad inquiry in a situation like this. Certainly the Court does not point that place out. There can be little doubt that much of the associational informa- [p499] tion called for by the statute will be of little or no use whatever to the school authorities, but I do not understand how those authorities can be expected to fix in advance the terms of their enquiry so that it will yield only relevant information.

I do not mean to say that alternatives such as an inquiry limited to the names of organizations of whose character the State is presently aware, or to a class of organizations defined by their purposes, would not be more consonant with a decent respect for the privacy of the teacher, nor that such alternatives would be utterly unworkable. I do see, however, that these alternatives suffer from deficiencies so obvious where a State is bent upon discovering everything which would be relevant to its proper purposes, that I cannot say that it must, as a matter of constitutional compulsion, adopt some such means instead of those which have been chosen here.

Finally, I need hardly say that if it turns out that this statute is abused, either by an unwarranted publicizing of the required associational disclosures or otherwise, we would have a different kind of case than those presently before us. See Lassiter v. Northampton Elections Board, 360 U.S. 45, 53–54. All that is now here is the validity of the statute on its face, and I am unable to agree that in this posture of things the enactment can be said to be unconstitutional.

I would affirm in both cases.