Foley v. Connelie

The Case: U.S. Supreme Court decision on rights of immigrants

Date: Decided on March 22, 1978

Significance: Upholding a state law that discriminated against aliens, the Supreme Court in the Foley decision departed from a previous decision based on strict scrutiny, thereby making it much more likely that similar policies would be upheld.

A legally admitted resident alien, Edmund Foley applied for a position as a New York State trooper. A state law, however, provided that only U.S. citizens could be appointed to the state’s police force. When Foley was denied the right to take the competitive examination, he went to court to argue that the law violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court emphasized that the states had exercised a “historical power to exclude aliens from participation in its democratic political institutions,” and that the police function was “one of the basic functions of government.” In contrast to the landmark precedent case Graham v. Richardson (1971), the Court did not assess the law according to the demanding standard of strict scrutiny. In contrast to classifications based on race, the majority of the justices accepted the premise that a classification based on alienage was acceptable so long as there was a rational relationship between the classification and a valid governmental interest. In a subsequent decision, Ambach v. Norwick (1979), the Court used the same standard of review in upholding alienage restrictions for teachers in the public schools.

Thomas Tandy Lewis

Further Reading

  • Bosniak, Linda. The Citizen and the Alien: Dilemmas of Contemporary Membership. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2008. 
  • Epstein, Lee, and Thomas Walker. Constitutional Law for a Changing America: Rights, Liberties, and Justice. 6th ed. Washington, D.C.: CQPress, 2006. 

See also: Bernal v. Fainter ; Citizenship; Congress, U.S.; Constitution, U.S.; Immigration law; Supreme Court, U.S.

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