Foley v. Connelie

435 U.S. 291 (1978)

Quick Summary

Edmund Foley (plaintiff), a lawful permanent resident, was denied the chance to become a New York State trooper due to a citizenship requirement. He sued, asserting this violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights.

The dispute centered on whether New York could limit state trooper positions to U.S. citizens. The Supreme Court held that such a requirement was constitutional because of the role’s significant discretionary powers affecting public safety.

Facts of the Case

Edmund Foley (plaintiff), a lawful permanent resident, of the United States and potential naturalized citizen, sought to become a New York State trooper. The role required passing competitive examinations. However, Foley was barred from taking the exams by New York state officials because he was not a U.S. citizen, as mandated by New York state law.

Foley challenged this citizenship requirement in federal district court, arguing it violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court upheld the law, prompting Foley’s appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Procedural Posture and History

  1. Foley applied for a position as a New York State trooper and was denied the opportunity to take the necessary examinations due to his non-citizen status.
  2. Foley filed suit in federal district court claiming the citizenship requirement violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
  3. The district court upheld the New York law as constitutional.
  4. Foley appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

I.R.A.C. Format


Whether a state can constitutionally restrict appointments to its police force to United States citizens.

Rule of Law

While aliens lawfully residing in the United States have many rights, there is no requirement that every statutory exclusion of aliens must pass strict scrutiny.

Instead, when dealing with matters within a state’s constitutional prerogatives, such as appointments to positions involving the execution of broad public policy, the state need only demonstrate a rational relationship between the interest sought to be protected and the classification used.

Reasoning and Analysis

The Court found that New York State troopers hold positions that involve the exercise of substantial discretionary power affecting individuals and public safety. The Court reasoned that these duties are fundamental to the state’s obligation to its citizens and therefore, citizenship can be considered a rational qualification for such roles.

The Court distinguished between general employment opportunities and positions integral to governance and public policy execution, concluding that the latter can be legitimately restricted to citizens.


The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court, upholding New York’s citizenship requirement for state troopers as constitutional.

Dissenting Opinions

Justice Marshall, joined by Justices Brennan and Stevens, dissented, arguing that state troopers do not participate directly in formulating broad public policy and therefore should not be excluded from this occupation on the basis of citizenship. Justice Stevens, with Justice Brennan joining, also dissented on grounds that excluding aliens based on presumed disloyalty or untrustworthiness without individual assessment is unjustifiable.

Key Takeaways

  1. States may constitutionally limit certain positions involving execution of public policy to citizens.
  2. The Supreme Court will uphold state laws that are rationally related to legitimate state interests in governance and public safety.
  3. Positions such as state troopers involve discretionary authority that can constitutionally be restricted to U.S. citizens.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What constitutes a rational basis for a state to impose citizenship requirements for certain jobs?

States must demonstrate a legitimate state interest, such as public safety or governance, and show that the citizenship requirement is rationally related to achieving that interest. This means there must be a reasonable fit between the state’s goal and the job function.

  • For example: A state might require citizenship for judges because they interpret laws and uphold the Constitution, functions integral to state interests.

Can lawful permanent residents be excluded from public employment based on their citizenship status?

Lawful permanent residents can be excluded if the state establishes a rational basis for the exclusion related to the execution of public policy or essential government functions where citizenship is deemed necessary.

  • For example: A permanent resident could be excluded from a high-level position in the Department of Defense due to concerns about access to classified information and loyalty.

How do positions involving discretionary authority differ from general employment in terms of legal restrictions on alien participation?

Positions with discretionary authority may have heightened citizenship requirements due to their role in shaping and enforcing policies that affect the public welfare, while general employment is typically open to aliens if not involving sensitive or policy-making duties.

  • For example: While a clerk at a government agency may not need to be a citizen, an immigration officer with the power to approve or deny visas likely would.


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