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Law School Case Brief

Keyishian v. Bd. of Regents - 385 U.S. 589, 87 S. Ct. 675 (1967)


Academic freedom is a special concern of the First Amendment, which does not tolerate laws that cast a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom. 


Appellants were professors, instructors, or lecturers at the State University of New York. They were required by a state law program to sign certificates stating, among other things, that they were not members of the Communist Party. The state program was meant to prevent appointment or retention of subversive persons. Each appellant was notified that failure to sign the certificate would result in dismissal. Appellants brought an action for declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that the state program violated the United States Constitution in various respects. The lower court held that the program was constitutional. 


Was the state program conditioning public employment based on certain procedures designed to prevent appointment or retention of "subversive" persons. constitutional?




The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the judgment. The Court concluded that the regulatory maze created by the laws was wholly lacking in terms susceptible of objective measurement. Moreover, it was so ambiguous that men of common intelligence had to necessarily guess at its meaning and differed as to its application. The Court held that the statutory scheme at issue was void for vagueness and overly broad in violation of the First Amendment. Specifically, the laws were held to be invalid insofar as they proscribed mere knowing membership without any showing of specific intent to further the unlawful aims of the Communist Party. The Court explained that while there can be no doubt of the legitimacy of New York's interest in protecting its education system from subversion, the governmental purpose must be legitimate and substantial and its purpose cannot be pursued by means that broadly stifle fundamental personal liberties when the end can be more narrowly achieved.

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