353 U.S. 252 (1957), 5, Konigsberg v. State Bar of California

Docket Nº:No. 5
Citation:353 U.S. 252, 77 S.Ct. 722, 1 L.Ed.2d 810
Party Name:Konigsberg v. State Bar of California
Case Date:May 06, 1957
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 252

353 U.S. 252 (1957)

77 S.Ct. 722, 1 L.Ed.2d 810



State Bar of California

No. 5

United States Supreme Court

May 6, 1957

Argued January 14, 1957



In 1954, the Committee of Bar Examiners of California refused to certify petitioner to practice law in that State, though he had satisfactorily passed the bar examination, on the grounds that he had failed to prove (1) that he was of good moral character, and (2) that he did not advocate forcible overthrow of the Government. He sought review by the State Supreme Court, contending that the Committee's action deprived him of rights secured by the Fourteenth Amendment. The State Supreme Court denied his petition without opinion.


1. This Court has jurisdiction to review the case, and the constitutional issues are properly here. Pp. 254-58.

2. The evidence in the record does not rationally support the only two grounds upon which the Committee relied in rejecting petitioner's application, and therefore the State's refusal to admit him to the bar was a denial of due process and equal protection of the laws, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 258-274.

(a) That petitioner was a member of the Communist Party in 1941, if true, does not support an inference that he did not have good moral character, absent any evidence that he ever engaged in or abetted or supported any unlawful or immoral activities. Pp. 266-268.

(b) An inference of bad moral character cannot rationally be drawn from editorials in which petitioner severely criticized, inter alia, this country's participation in the Korean War, the actions and policies of the leaders of the major political parties, the influence of "big business" in American life, racial discrimination, and this Court's decisions in Dennis v. United States, 341 U.S. 494, and other cases. Pp. 268-269.

(c) On the record in this case, inferences of bad moral character from petitioner's refusal to answer questions about his political affiliations and opinions are unwarranted. Pp. 269-271.

(d) There is no evidence in the record which rationally justifies a finding that petitioner failed to show that he did not advocate forcible overthrow of the Government. Pp. 271-274.

Page 253

BLACK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petitioner, Raphael Konigsberg, graduated from the Law School of the University of Southern California in 1953, and, four months later, satisfactorily passed the California bar examination. Nevertheless, the State Committee of Bar Examiners, after several hearings, refused to certify him to practice law, on the grounds he had failed to prove (1) that he was of good moral character and (2) that he did not advocate overthrow of the Government of the United States or California by unconstitutional means.1 As permitted by state law, Konigsberg asked the California Supreme Court to review the Committee's refusal to give him its certification. He contended that he had satisfactorily proved that he met all the requirements for admission to the bar, and that the Committee's action deprived him of right secured by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

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The State Supreme Court, without opinion and with three of its seven justices dissenting, denied his petition for review. We granted certiorari because the constitutional questions presented were substantial. 351 U.S. 936.


Before reaching the merits, we must first consider the State's contention that this Court does not have jurisdiction to review the case. The State argues (1) that petitioner did not present his constitutional claims to the California Supreme Court in the manner prescribed by that court's rules, and (2) that the state court's decision not to [77 S.Ct. 724] grant him relief can be attributed to his failure to conform to its procedural rules, rather than to a rejection of his constitutional claims.

In considering actions of the Committee of Bar Examiners, the California Supreme Court exercises original jurisdiction, and is not restricted to the limited review made by an appellate court. For example, that court declared in In re Lacey, 11 Cal.2d 699 at 701, 81 P.2d 935 at 936:

That this court has the inherent power and authority to admit an applicant to practice law in this state or to reinstate an applicant previously disbarred despite an unfavorable report upon such application by the Board of Bar Governors of the State Bar we think is now well settled in this state. . . . The recommendation of the Board of Bar Governors is advisory only. . . . [T]he final determination in all these matters rests with this court, and its powers in that regard are plenary, and its judgment conclusive.2

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The California Supreme Court has a special rule, Rule 59(b) which governs review of actions of the Bar Examiners.3 Rule 59(b) requires that a petition for review "shall specify the grounds relied on, and shall be accompanied by petitioner's brief." Konigsberg complied with this rule. In his petition for review, he specifically charged that the findings of the Committee were not supported by any lawful evidence.4 The petition then went on to assert that the Committee's action, which was based on findings that the petition had previously alleged were not supported by evidence, was an attempt by the State of California, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, to deprive him "of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law," and to deny him "the equal protection of the laws."

Throughout the hearings before the Bar Examiners, Konigsberg repeatedly objected to questions about his beliefs and associations, asserting that such inquiries infringed rights guaranteed him by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. He urged that the Committee would abridge freedom of speech, press, and assembly, violate due process, and deny equal protection of the laws if it denied his application because of his

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political opinions, writings, and affiliations. He asserted that he had affirmatively proved his good moral character, and that there was no legal basis for finding that he was morally unfit to practice law. He insisted that, in determining whether he was qualified, the Committee had to comply with due process of law, and cited as supporting his position Wieman v. Updegraff, 344 U.S. 183, and Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee v. McGrath, 341 U.S. 123, where this Court condemned arbitrary findings as offensive to due process.5 Since Konigsberg challenged the sufficiency of the evidence [77 S.Ct. 725] in his petition for review, it seems clear that the State Supreme Court examined the entire record of the hearings before the Bar Examiners,6 and must have been aware of the constitutional arguments made by Konigsberg during the hearings and the authorities relied on to support these arguments.

The State contends, however, that it was not enough for Konigsberg to raise his constitutional objections in his petition, in the manner prescribed by Rule 59(b), and at the hearings. It claims that, under California practice, the State Supreme Court will not consider a contention unless it is supported by an argument and citation of authorities in a brief submitted by the person seeking review. Because Konigsberg's brief did not repeat, precisely and in detail, the constitutional objections set forth in his petition,7 the argument continues, this Court is compelled to hold that the State Supreme Court could have refused relief to petitioner on a narrow procedural ground. But the California cases cited by the State do not require such a conclusion. It is true that the State

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Supreme Court has insisted that, on appeal in ordinary civil cases, alleged errors should be pointed out clearly and concisely, with reasons why they are erroneous, and with reference to supporting authorities.8 However this case was not reviewed under the rules of appeal which apply to the ordinary civil case, but, rather, under a special rule applying to original proceedings. We are pointed to nothing which indicates that the State Supreme Court has adopted any rule in this type of case which requires that contentions raised in the petition for review must also be set out in the brief. The one case cited, Johnson v. State Bar of California, 4 Cal.2d 744, 52 P.2d 928, indicates the contrary. In challenging the recommendation of the Board of Governors of the State Bar that he be suspended from the practice of law, Johnson alleged, apparently in an offhand way, that the entire State Bar Act was "unconstitutional." He made no argument and cited no authority to support this bare, sweeping assertion. While the court said that this was an insufficient presentation of the issue, it nevertheless went ahead to consider and reject Johnson's argument, and to hold the Act constitutional.

Counsel for California concedes that the state courts in criminal cases often pass on issues ineptly argued in a defendant's brief or sometimes not raised there at all.9 As counsel states, the reasons for relaxing this standard in criminal cases are obvious -- such cases may involve forfeiture of the accused's property, liberty, or life. While this is not a criminal case, its consequences for Konigsberg take it out of the ordinary run of civil cases. The Committee's action prevents him from earning

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a living by practicing law. This deprivation has grave consequences for a man who has spent years of study and a great deal of money in preparing to be a lawyer.

In view of the grounds relied on in Konigsberg's petition for review, his repeated assertions throughout the hearings of various federal constitutional rights, and the practices of the California...

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