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Justice Thurgood Marshall - Board of Regents of State Colleges v. Roth (Dissent) lyrics


Respondent was hired as an assistant professor of political science at Wisconsin State University-Oshkosh for the 1968-1969 academic year. During the course of that year he was told that he would not be rehired for the next academic term, but he was never told why. In this case, he asserts that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution entitled him to a statement of reasons and a hearing on the University's decision not to rehire him for another year.[1] This claim was sustained by the District Court, which granted respondent summary judgment, 310 F. Supp. 972, and by the Court of Appeals which affirmed the judgment of the District Court. 446 F. 2d 806. This Court today reverses the judgment of the Court of Appeals and rejects respondent's claim. I dissent.
While I agree with Part I of the Court's opinion, setting forth the proper framework for consideration of the issue presented, and also with those portions of Parts II and III of the Court's opinion that assert that a public employee is entitled to procedural due process whenever a State stigmatizes him by denying employment, or injures his future employment prospects severely, or whenever the State deprives him of a property interest, I would go further than the Court does in defining the terms "liberty" and "property."

The prior decisions of this Court, discussed at length in the opinion of the Court, establish a principle that is as obvious as it is compelling—i. e., federal and state governments and governmental agencies are restrained by the Constitution from acting arbitrarily with respect to employment opportunities that they either offer or control. Hence, it is now firmly established that whether or not a private employer is free to act capriciously or unreasonably with respect to employment practices, at least absent statutory[2] or contractual[3] controls, a government employer is different. The government may only act fairly and reasonably.

This Court has long maintained that "the right to work for a living in the common occupations of the community is of the very essence of the personal freedom and opportunity that it was the purpose of the [Fourteenth] Amendment to secure." Truax v. Raich, 239 U. S. 33, 41 (1915) (Hughes, J.). See also Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U. S. 390, 399 (1923). It has also established that the fact that an employee has no contract guaranteeing work for a specific future period does not mean that as the result of action by the government he may be "discharged at any time for any reason or for no reason." Truax v. Raich, supra, at 38.

In my view, every citizen who applies for a government job is entitled to it unless the government can establish some reason for denying the employment. This is the "property" right that I believe is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment and that cannot be denied "without due process of law." And it is also liberty— liberty to work—which is the "very essence of the personal freedom and opportunity" secured by the Fourteenth Amendment.

This Court has often had occasion to note that the denial of public employment is a serious blow to any citizen. See, e. g., Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee v. McGrath, 341 U. S. 123, 185 (1951) (Jackson, J., concurring); United States v. Lovett, 328 U. S. 303, 316-317 (1946). Thus, when an application for public employment is denied or the contract of a government employee is not renewed, the government must say why, for it is only when the reasons underlying government action are known that citizens feel secure and protected against arbitrary government action.

Employment is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, benefits that governments offer in modern-day life. When something as valuable as the opportunity to work is at stake, the government may not reward some citizens and not others without demonstrating that its actions are fair and equitable. And it is procedural due process that is our fundamental guarantee of fairness, our protection against arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable government action.

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS has written that:

"It is not without significance that most of the provisions of the Bill of Rights are procedural. It is procedure that spells much of the difference between rule by law and rule by whim or caprice. Steadfast adherence to strict procedural safeguards is our main assurance that there will be equal justice under law." Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee v. McGrath, supra, at 179 (concurring opinion).

And Mr. Justice Frankfurter has said that "[t]he history of American freedom is, in no small measure, the 590*590 history of procedure." Malinski v. New York, 324 U. S. 401, 414 (1945) (separate opinion). With respect to occupations controlled by the government, one lower court has said that "[t]he public has the right to expect its officers . . . to make adjudications on the basis of merit. The first step toward insuring that these expectations are realized is to require adherence to the standards of due process; absolute and uncontrolled discretion invites abuse." Hornsby v. Allen, 326 F. 2d 605, 610 (CA5 1964).

We have often noted that procedural due process means many different things in the numerous contexts in which it applies. See, e. g., Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U. S. 254 (1970); Bell v. Burson, 402 U. S. 535 (1971). Prior decisions have held that an applicant for admission to practice as an attorney before the United States Board of Tax Appeals may not be rejected without a statement of reasons and a chance for a hearing on disputed issues of fact;[4] that a tenured teacher could not be summarily dismissed without notice of the reasons and a hearing;[5] that an applicant for admission to a state bar could not be denied the opportunity to practice law without notice of the reasons for the rejection of his application and a hearing;[6] and even that a substitute teacher who had been employed only two months could not be dismissed merely because she refused to take a loyalty oath without an inquiry into the specific facts of her case and a hearing on those in dispute.[7] I would follow these cases and hold that respondent was denied due process when his contract was not renewed and he was not informed of the reasons and given an opportunity to respond.

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It may be argued that to provide procedural due process to all public employees or prospective employees would place an intolerable burden on the machinery of government. Cf. Goldberg v. Kelly, supra. The short answer to that argument is that it is not burdensome to give reasons when reasons exist. Whenever an application for employment is denied, an employee is discharged, or a decision not to rehire an employee is made, there should be some reason for the decision. It can scarcely be argued that government would be crippled by a requirement that the reason be communicated to the person most directly affected by the government's action.

Where there are numerous applicants for jobs, it is likely that few will choose to demand reasons for not being hired. But, if the demand for reasons is exceptionally great, summary procedures can be devised that would provide fair and adequate information to all persons. As long as the government has a good reason for its actions it need not fear disclosure. It is only where the government acts improperly that procedural due process is truly burdensome. And that is precisely when it is most necessary.

It might also be argued that to require a hearing and a statement of reasons is to require a useless act, because a government bent on denying employment to one or more persons will do so regardless of the procedural hurdles that are placed in its path. Perhaps this is so, but a requirement of procedural regularity at least renders arbitrary action more difficult. Moreover, proper procedures will surely eliminate some of the arbitrariness that results, not from malice, but from innocent error. "Experience teaches . . . that the affording of procedural safeguards, which by their nature serve to illuminate the underlying facts, in itself often operates to prevent erroneous decisions on the merits from occurring." Silver v. New York Stock Exchange, 373 U. S. 341, 366 (1963). When the government knows it may have to justify its decisions with sound reasons, its conduct is likely to be more cautious, careful, and correct.

Professor Gellhorn put the argument well:

"In my judgment, there is no basic division of interest between the citizenry on the one hand and officialdom on the other. Both should be interested equally in the quest for procedural safeguards. I echo the late Justice JACKSON in saying: `Let it not be overlooked that due process of law is not for the sole benefit of an accused. It is the best insurance for the Government itself against those blunders which leave lasting stains on a system of justice'—blunders which are likely to occur when reasons need not be given and when the reasonableness and indeed legality of judgments need not be subjected to any appraisal other than one's own. . . ." Summary of Colloquy on Administrative Law, 6 J. Soc. Pub. Teachers of Law 70, 73 (1961).

Accordingly, I dissent. FOOTNOTES [1] Respondent has also alleged that the true reason for the decision not to rehire him was to punish him for certain statements critical of the University. As the Court points out, this issue is not before us at the present time.

[2] See, e. g., Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U. S. 424 (1971); 42 U. S. C. § 2000e.

[3] Cf. Note, Procedural "Due Process" in Union Disciplinary Proceedings, 57 Yale L. J. 1302 (1948).

[4] Goldsmith v. Board of Tax Appeals, 270 U. S. 117 (1926).

[5] Slochower v. Board of Education, 350 U. S. 551 (1956).

[6] Willner v. Committee on Character, 373 U. S. 96 (1963).

[7] Connell v. Higginbotham, 403 U. S. 207 (1971).

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