Foley v. Connelie, 435 U.S. 291; 98 S. Ct. 1067; 55 L. Ed. 2d 287 (1978)

Facts—New York State has a law prohibiting aliens from serving as state troopers. Foley, an alien planning to become a naturalized citizen, applied to take the Civil Service examination to become a trooper but was denied the opportunity. A three-judge U.S. District Court affirmed this denial, which was then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Question—Did the New York law limiting state trooper positions to citizens violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?


ReasonsC.J. Burger (6–3). State troopers are part of “a law enforcement body which exercises broad police authority throughout the State.” Classifications involving aliens require “heightened judicial solicitude,” but such classifications are neither all illegal nor do they require “strict scrutiny.” Although police do “not formulate policy, per se, . . . they are clothed with authority to exercise an almost infinite variety of discretionary powers.” An arrest is a serious matter involving “a very high degree of judgment and discretion.” Such implementation of broad public policies may legitimately be confined to U.S. citizens.

J. Stewart’s concurrence questions whether this decision can be reconciled with others, but he doubts their validity. J. Blackmun’s concurrence stressed that classifications based on alienage should be “inherently suspect.” J. Marshall’s dissent sees “a vast difference between the formulation and execution of broad public policy and the application of that policy to specific factual settings.” J. Stevens sees nothing that would suggest that “aliens as a class lack the intelligence or the courage to serve the public as police officers,” and argues that this case should be governed by a previous decision allowing alien attorneys to practice law.

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