Shelton v. Tucker/Opinion of the Court

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Shelton v. Tucker, 364 U.S. 479 (1960)
Opinion of the Court by Potter Stewart
Court Documents
Case Syllabus
Opinion of the Court
Dissenting Opinions
Linked case(s):
231 Ark. 641
174 F. Supp. 351
364 U.S. 479

Mr. Justice Stewart delivered the Opinion of the Court.

An Arkansas statute compels every teacher, as a condition of employment in a state-supported school or college, to file annually an affidavit listing without limitation every organization to which he has belonged or regularly contributed within the preceding five years. At issue in these two cases is the validity of that statute under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. No. 14 is an appeal from the judgment of a three-judge Federal District Court upholding the statute's validity, 174 F. Supp. 351. No. 83 is here on writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of Arkansas, which also held the statute constitutionally valid. 231 Ark. 641, 331 S.W.2d 701.

The statute in question is Act 10 of the Second Extraordinary Session of the Arkansas General Assembly of 1958. The provisions of the Act are summarized in the opinion of the District Court as follows (174 F. Supp. 353):

"Act 10 provides in substance that no person shall be employed or elected to employment as a superintendent, principal or teacher in any public school in Arkansas, or as an instructor, professor or teacher in any public institution of higher learning in that State until such person shall have submitted to the appro- [p481] priate hiring authority an affidavit listing all organizations to which he at the time belongs and to which he has belonged during the past five years, and also listing all organizations to which he at the time is paying regular dues or is making regular contributions, or to which within the past five years he has paid such dues or made such contributions. The Act further provides, among other things, that any contract entered into with any person who has not filed the prescribed affidavit shall be void; that no public moneys shall be paid to such person as compensation for his services; and that any such funds so paid may be recovered back either from the person receiving such funds or from the board of trustees or other governing body making the payment. The filing of a false affidavit is denounced as perjury, punishable by a fine of not less than five hundred nor more than one thousand dollars, and, in addition, the person filing the false affidavit is to lose his teaching license." 174 F. Supp. 353–354.[1]

[p482] These provisions must be considered against the existing system of teacher employment required by Arkansas law. Teachers there are hired on a year-to-year basis. They are not covered by a civil service system, and they have no job security beyond the end of each school year. The closest approach to tenure is a statutory provision for the automatic renewal of a teacher's contract if he is not notified within ten days after the end of a school year that the contract has not been renewed. Ark. 1947 Stat. Ann. § 80-1304(b) (1960); Wabbaseka School District No. 7 v. Johnson, 225 Ark. 982, 286 S.W.2d 841.

The plaintiffs in the Federal District Court (appellants here) were B. T. Shelton, a teacher employed in the Little Rock Public School System, suing for himself and others similarly situated, together with the Arkansas Teachers Association and its Executive Secretary, suing for the benefit of members of the Association. Shelton had been [p483] employed in the Little Rock Special School District for twenty-five years. In the spring of 1959 he was notified that, before he could be employed for the 1959–1960 school year, he must file the affidavit required by Act 10, listing all his organizational connections over the previous five years. He declined to file the affidavit, and his contract for the ensuing school year was not renewed. At the trial the evidence showed that he was not a member of the Communist Party or of any organization advocating the overthrow of the Government by force, and that he was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The court upheld Act 10, finding the information it required was "relevant," and relying on several decisions of this Court, particularly Garner v. Board of Public Works of Los Angeles, 341 U.S. 716; Adler v. Board of Education, 342 U.S. 485; Beilan v. [p484] Board of Higher Education, 357 U.S. 399; and Lerner v. Casey, 357 U.S. 468.[2]

The plaintiffs in the state court proceedings (petitioners here) were Max Carr, an associate professor at the University of Arkansas, and Ernest T. Gephardt, a teacher at Central High School in Little Rock, each suing for himself and others similarly situated. Each refused to execute and file the affidavit required by Act 10. Carr executed an affirmation[3] in which he listed his membership in professional organizations, denied ever having been a member of any subversive organization, and offered to answer any questions which the University authorities might constitutionally ask touching upon his qualifications as a teacher. Gephardt filed an affidavit stating that he had never belonged to a subversive organization, disclosing his membership in the Arkansas Education Association and the American Legion, and also offering to answer any questions which the school authorities might constitutionally ask touching upon his qualifications as a teacher. Both were advised that their failure to comply with the requirements of Act 10 would make impossible their re-employment as teachers for the following school year. The Supreme Court of Arkansas upheld the constitutionality of Act 10, on its face and as applied to the petitioners. 231 Ark. 641, 331 S.W.2d 701.


It is urged here, as it was unsuccessfully urged throughout the proceedings in both the federal and state courts, that Act 10 deprives teachers in Arkansas of their [p485] rights to personal, associational, and academic liberty, protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment from invasion by state action. In considering this contention, we deal with two basic postulates.

First. There can be no doubt of the right of a State to investigate the competence and fitness of those whom it hires to teach in its schools, as this Court before now has had occasion to recognize. "A teacher works in a sensitive area in a schoolroom. There he shapes the attitude of young minds towards the society in which they live. In this, the state has a vital concern." Adler v. Board of Education, 342 U.S. 485, 493. There is "no requirement in the Federal Constitution that a teacher's classroom conduct be the sole basis for determining his fitness. Fitness for teaching depends on a broad range of factors." Beilan v. Board of Education, 357 U.S. 399, 406.[4]

This controversy is thus not of a pattern with such cases as N.A.A.C.P. v. Alabama, 357 U.S. 449, and Bates v. Little Rock, 361 U.S. 516. In those cases the Court held that there was no substantially relevant correlation between the governmental interest asserted and the State's effort to compel disclosure of the membership lists involved. Here, by contrast, there can be no question of the relevance of a State's inquiry into the fitness and competence of its teachers.[5]

Second. It is not disputed that to compel a teacher to disclose his every associational tie is to impair [p486] that teacher's right of free association, a right closely allied to freedom of speech and a right which, like free speech, lies at the foundation of a free society. De Jonge v. Oregon, 299 U.S. 353, 364; Bates v. Little Rock, supra, at 522–523. Such interference with personal freedom is conspicuously accented when the teacher serves at the absolute will of those to whom the disclosure must be made—those who any year can terminate the teacher's employment without bringing charges, without notice, without a hearing, without affording an opportunity to explain.

The statute does not provide that the information it requires be kept confidential. Each school board is left free to deal with the information as it wishes.[6] The record contains evidence to indicate that fear of public disclosure is neither theoretical nor groundless.[7] Even if there were no disclosure to the general public, the pressure upon a teacher to avoid any ties which might displease those who control his professional destiny would be constant and heavy. Public exposure, bringing with it the possibility of public pressures upon school boards to discharge teachers who belong to unpopular or minority [p487] organizations, would simply operate to widen and aggravate the impairment of constitutional liberty.

The vigilant protection of constitutional freedoms is nowhere more vital than in the community of American schools. "By limiting the power of the States to interfere with freedom of speech and freedom of inquiry and freedom of association, the Fourteenth Amendment protects all persons, no matter what their calling. But, in view of the nature of the teacher's relation to the effective exercise of the rights which are safeguarded by the Bill of Rights and by the Fourteenth Amendment, inhibition of freedom of thought, and of action upon thought, in the case of teachers brings the safeguards of those amendments vividly into operation. Such unwarranted inhibition upon the free spirit of teachers . . . has an unmistakable tendency to chill that free play of the spirit which all teachers ought especially to cultivate and practice; it makes for caution and timidity in their associations by potential teachers." Wieman v. Updegraff, 344 U.S. 183, 195 (concurring opinion). "Scholarship cannot flourish in an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust. Teachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate . . . ." Sweezy v. New Hampshire, 354 U.S. 234, 250.


The question to be decided here is not whether the State of Arkansas can ask certain of its teachers about all their organizational relationships. It is not whether the State can ask all of its teachers about certain of their associational ties. It is not whether teachers can be asked how many organizations they belong to, or how much time they spend in organizational activity. The question is whether the State can ask every one of its teachers to disclose every single organization with which he has [p488] been associated over a five-year period. The scope of the inquiry required by Act 10 is completely unlimited. The statute requires a teacher to reveal the church to which he belongs, or to which he has given financial support. It requires him to disclose his political party, and every political organization to which he may have contributed over a five-year period. It requires him to list, without number, every conceivable kind of associational tie—social, professional, political, avocational, or religious. Many such relationships could have no possible bearing upon the teacher's occupational competence or fitness.

In a series of decisions this Court has held that, even though the governmental purpose be legitimate and substantial, that purpose cannot be pursued by means that broadly stifle fundamental personal liberties when the end can be more narrowly achieved.[8] The breadth of legislative abridgment must be viewed in the light of less drastic means for achieving the same basic purpose.[9]

In Lovell v. Griffin, 303 U.S. 444, the Court invalidated an ordinance prohibiting all distribution of literature at any time or place in Griffin, Georgia, without a license, pointing out that so broad an interference was unnecessary to accomplish legitimate municipal aims. In [p489] Schneider v. State, 308 U.S. 147, the Court dealt with ordinances of four different municipalities which either banned or imposed prior restraints upon the distribution of handbills. In holding the ordinances invalid, the Court noted that where legislative abridgment of "fundamental personal rights and liberties" is asserted, "the courts should be astute to examine the effect of the challenged legislation. Mere legislative preferences or beliefs respecting matters of public convenience may well support regulation directed at other personal activities, but be insufficient to justify such as diminishes the exercise of rights so vital to the maintenance of democratic institutions." 308 U.S., at 161. In Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, the Court said that "[c]onduct remains subject to regulation for the protection of society," but pointed out that in each case "the power to regulate must be so exercised as not, in attaining a permissible end, unduly to infringe the protected freedom." 310 U.S., at 304. Illustrations of the same constitutional principle are to be found in many other decisions of the Court, among them, Martin v. Struthers, 319 U.S. 141; Saia v. New York, 334 U.S. 558; and Kunz v. New York, 340 U.S. 290.

As recently as last Term we held invalid an ordinance prohibiting the distribution of handbills because the breadth of its application went far beyond what was necessary to achieve a legitimate governmental purpose. Talley v. California, 362 U.S. 60. In that case the Court noted that it had been "urged that this ordinance is aimed at providing a way to identify those responsible for fraud, false advertising and libel. Yet the ordinance is in no manner so limited . . . . Therefore we do not pass on the validity of an ordinance limited to prevent these or any other supposed evils. This ordinance simply bars all handbills under all circumstances anywhere that do not have the names and addresses printed on them in the place the ordinance requires." 362 U.S., at 64.

[p490] The unlimited and indiscriminate sweep of the statute now before us brings it within the ban of our prior cases. The statute's comprehensive interference with associational freedom goes far beyond what might be justified in the exercise of the State's legitimate inquiry into the fitness and competency of its teachers. The judgments in both cases must be reversed.

It is so ordered.

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

  1. The statute is in seven sections. Section 1 provides: "It is hereby declared that the purpose of this act is to provide assistance in the administration and financing of the public schools of Arkansas, and institutions of higher learning supported wholly or in part by public funds, and it is hereby determined that it will be beneficial to the public schools and institutions of higher learning and the State of Arkansas, if certain affidavits of membership are required as hereinafter provided." Section 2 provides: "No superintendent, principal, or teacher shall be employed or elected in any elementary or secondary school by the district operating such school, and no instructor, professor, or other teacher shall be employed or elected in any institution of higher learning, or other educational institution supported wholly or in part by public funds, by the trustees or governing authority thereof, until, as a condition precedent to such employment, such superintendent, principal, teacher, instructor or professor shall have filed with such board [p482] of trustees or governing authority an affidavit as to the names and addresses of all incorporated and/or unincorporated associations and organizations that such superintendent, principal, teacher, instructor or professor is or within the past five years has been a member of, or to which organization or association such superintendent, principal, teacher, instructor, professor, or other teacher is presently paying, or within the past five years has paid regular dues, or to which the same is making or within the past five years has made regular contributions." Section 3 sets out the form of affidavit to be used. Section 4 provides: "Any contract entered into by any board of any school district, board of trustees of any institution of higher learning, or other educational institution supported wholly or in part by public funds, or by any governing authority thereof, with any superintendent, principal, teacher, instructor, professor, or other instructional personnel, who shall not have filed the affidavit required in Section 2 hereof prior to the employment or election of such person and prior to the making of such contracts, shall be null and void and no funds shall be paid under said contract to such superintendent, principal, teacher, instructor, professor, or other instructional personnel; any funds so paid under said contract to such superintendent, principal, teacher, instructor, professor, or other instructional per- [p483] sonnel, may be recovered from the person receiving the same and/or from the board of trustees or other governing authority by suit filed in the circuit court of the county in which such contract was made, and any judgment entered by such court in such cause of action shall be a personal judgment against the defendant therein and upon the official bonds made by such defendants, if any such bonds be in existence." Section 5 provides that a teacher filing a false affidavit shall be guilty of perjury, punishable by a fine, and shall forfeit his license to teach in any school or other institution of learning supported wholly or in part by public funds. Section 6 is a separability provision. Section 7 is an emergency clause, reading in part as follows: "It is hereby determined that the decisions of the United States Supreme Court in the school segregation cases require solution of a great variety of local public school problems of considerable complexity immediately and which involve the health, safety and general welfare of the people of the State of Arkansas, and that the purpose of this act is to assist in the solution of these problems and to provide for the more efficient administration of public education."
  2. In the same proceeding the court held constitutionally invalid an Arkansas statute (Acts 1959, Act 115) making it unlawful for any member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to be employed by the State of Arkansas or any of its subdivisions. 174 F. Supp. 351.
  3. The affirmation recited that Carr was "conscientiously opposed to taking an oath or swearing in any form . . . ."
  4. The actual holdings in Adler and Beilan, involving the validity of teachers' discharges, are not relevant to the present case.
  5. The declared purpose of Act 10 is "to provide assistance in the administration and financing of the public schools . . . ." The declared justification for the emergency clause is "to assist in the solution" of problems raised by "the decisions of the United States Supreme Court in the school segregation cases." See note 1. But neither the breadth and generality of the declared purpose nor the possible irrelevance of the emergency provision detracts from the existence of an actual relevant state interest in the inquiry.
  6. The record contains an opinion of the State Attorney General that "it is an administrative determination, to be made by the respective Boards, as to the disclosure of information contained in the affidavits." The Supreme Court of Arkansas has held only that "the affidavits need not be opened to public inspection . . . ." 231 Ark. 641, 646, 331 S.W.2d 701, 704. (Emphasis added.)
  7. In the state court proceedings a witness who was a member of the Capital Citizens Council testified that his group intended to gain access to some of the Act 10 affidavits with a view to eliminating from the school system persons who supported organizations unpopular with the group. Among such organizations he named the American Civil Liberties Union, the Urban League, the American Association of University Professors, and the Women's Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools.
  8. In other areas, involving different constitutional issues, more administrative leeway has been thought allowable in the interest of increased efficiency in accomplishing a clearly constitutional central purpose. See Purity Extract & Tonic Co. v. Lynch, 226 U.S. 192; Jacob Ruppert, Inc. v. Caffey, 251 U.S. 264; Schlesinger v. Wisconsin, 270 U.S. 230, 241 (dissenting opinion); Queenside Hills Realty Co. v. Saxl, 328 U.S. 80, 83. But cf. Dean Milk Co. v. Madison, 340 U.S. 349.
  9. See Freund, Competing Freedoms in American Constitutional Law, 13 U. of Chicago Conference Series 26, 32–33; Richardson, Freedom of Expression and the Function of Courts, 65 Harv. L. Rev. 1, 6, 23–24; Comment, Legislative Inquiry into Political Activity: First Amendment Immunity From Committee Interrogation, 65 Yale L. J. 1159, 1173–1175.