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

Slochower v. Board of Higher Education of New York City

No. 23

Argued October 18-19, 1955

Decided April 9, 1956

350 U.S. 551


Section 903 of the New York City Charter provides that, whenever a city employee utilizes the privilege against self-incrimination to avoid answering before a legislative committee, a question relating to his official conduct, his employment shall terminate. A teacher in a college operated by the City was summarily discharged under this section, without notice or hearing, because, while testifying before a federal legislative committee, he refused to answer questions concerning his membership in the Communist Party in 1940 and 1941 on the ground that his answers might tend to incriminate him. Under the New York Education Law, he was entitled to tenure, and could be discharged only for cause and after notice, hearing and appeal.

Held: in the circumstances of this case, his summary dismissal violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 350 U. S. 552-559.

(a) The privilege against self-incrimination would be reduced to a hollow mockery if its exercise could be taken as equivalent either to a confession of guilt or a conclusive presumption of perjury. Pp. 350 U. S. 556-558.

(b) On the record in this case, it cannot be claimed that the Board's action in dismissing the teacher was part of a bona fide attempt to gain needed and relevant information regarding his qualifications for his position. Pp. 350 U. S. 558-559.

(c) Since no inference of guilt was possible from the claim of the privilege against self-incrimination before the federal committee, the discharge falls of its own weight as wholly without support. P. 350 U. S. 559.

(d) Adler v. Board of Education, 342 U. S. 485, and Garner v. Los Angeles Board, 341 U. S. 716, distinguished. Pp. 350 U. S. 555-556.

(e) Wieman v. Updegraff, 344 U. S. 183, followed. Pp. 350 U. S. 556-558.

306 N.Y. 532, 119 N.E.2d 373, 307 N.Y. 806, 121 N.E.2d 629, reversed and remanded.

Page 350 U. S. 552

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