Constitutional Law – Due Process – Dismissal of State Employees for Refusal to Answer Questions Concerning Membership in Communist Organizations

In companion cases state employees of Pennsylvania and New York were dismissed on grounds of “incompetency” and “doubtful trust and reliability” for refusing to answer questions by superiors concerning membership in communist organizations. Petitioner Beilan also invoked the Fifth Amendment at a hearing by a congressional investigating committee between the time he refused to answer his superior and the time he was dismissed. Appellant Lerner had invoked the Fifth Amendment when he refused to answer the questions asked by city officials. The highest courts of the states upheld the dismissals, making it clear that they were based on refusal to respond to proper inquiry and not on disloyalty inferred from invocation of the Fifth Amendment. On certiorari to the United States Supreme Court from the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, held, affirmed, four justices dissenting. There is no denial of due process in the dismissal of a teacher for “incompetency” because of refusal to answer questions pertaining to fitness. Beilan v. Board of Education, 357 U.S. 399 (1958). On appeal to the United States Supreme Court from the Court of Appeals of New York, treated as certiorari, held, affirmed, four justices dissenting. Invocation of the Fifth Amendment does not preclude a state from dismissing for “doubtful trust and reliability” an employee who fails to respond to proper inquiry. There was no constitutional violation in the dismissal on the stated grounds. Lerner v. Casey, 357 U.S. 468 (1958).