Bradwell v. the State

Decision Date01 December 1872
Citation21 L.Ed. 442,83 U.S. 130,16 Wall. 130
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

IN error to the Supreme Court of the State of Illinois.

Mrs. Myra Bradwell, residing in the State of Illinois, made application to the judges of the Supreme Court of that State for a license to practice law. She accompanied her petition with the usual certificate from an inferior court of her good character, and that on due examination she had been found to possess the requisite qualifications. Pending this application she also filed an affidavit, to the effect 'that she was born in the State of Vermont; that she was (had been) a citizen of that State; that she is now a citizen of the United States, and has been for many years past a resident of the city of Chicago, in the State ofIllinois.' And with this affidavit she also filed a paper asserting that, under the foregoing facts, she was entitled to the license prayed for by virtue of the second section of the fourth article of the Constitution of the United States, and of the fourteenth article of amendment of that instrument.

The statute of Illinois on the subject of admissions to the bar, enacts that no person shall be permitted to practice as an attorney or counsellor-at-law, or to commence, conduct, or defend any action, suit, or complaint, in which he is not a party concerned, in any court of record within the State, either by using or subscribing his own name or the name of any other person, without having previously obtained a license for that purpose from some two of the justices of the Supreme Court, which license shall constitute the person receiving the same an attorney and counsellor-at-law, and shall authorize him to appear in all the courts of record within the State, and there to practice as an attorney and counsellor-at-law, according to the laws and customs thereof.

On Mrs. Bradwell's application first coming before the court, the license was refused, and it was stated as a sufficient reason that under the decisions of the Supreme Court of Illinois, the applicant—'as a married woman would be bound neither by her express contracts nor by those implied contracts which it is the policy of the law to create between attorney and client.' After the announcement of this decision, Mrs. Bradwell, admitting that she was a married woman—though she expressed her belief that such fact did not appear in the record—filed a printed argument in which her right to admission, notwithstanding that fact, was earnestly and ably maintained. The court thereupon gave an opinion in writing. Extracts are here given:

'Our statute provides that no person shall be permitted to practice as an attorney or counsellor at law without having previously obtained a license for that purpose from two of the justices of the Supreme Court. By the second section of the act, it is provided that no person shall be entitled to receive a license until he shall have obtained a certificate from the court of some county of his good moral character, and this is the only express limitation upon the exercise of the power thus intrusted to this court. In all other respects it is left to our discretion to establish the rules by which admission to this office shall be determined. But this discretion is not an arbitrary one, and must be held subject to at least two limitations. One is, that the court should establish such terms of admission as will promote the proper administration of justice; the second, that it should not admit any persons or class of persons who are not intended by the legislature to be admitted, even though their exclusion is not expressly required by the statute.

'The substance of the last limitation is simply that this important trust reposed in us should be exercised in conformity with the designs of the power creating it.

'Whether, in the existing social relations between men and women, it would promote the proper administration of justice, and the general well-being of society, to permit women to engage in the trial of cases at the bar, is a question opening a wide field of discussion, upon which it is not necessary for us to enter. It is sufficient to say that, in our opinion, the other implied limitation upon our power, to which we have above referred, must operate to prevent our admitting women to the office of attorney at law. If we were to admit them, we should be exercising the authority conferred upon us in a manner which, we are fully satisfied, was never contemplated by the legislature.

'It is to be remembered that at the time this statute was enacted we had, by express provision, adopted the common law of England, and, with three exceptions, the statutes of that country passed prior to the fourth year of James the First, so far as they were applicable to our condition.

'It is to be also remembered that female attorneys at law were unknown in England, and a proposition that a woman should enter the courts of Westminster Hall in that capacity, or as a barrister, would have created hardly less astonishment than one that she should ascend the bench of bishops, or be elected to a seat in the House of Commons.

'It is to be further remembered, that when our act was passed, that school of reform which claims for women participation in the making and administering of the laws had not then arisen, or, if here and there a writer had advanced such theories, they were regarded rather as abstract speculations than as an actual basis for action.

'That God designed the sexes to occupy different spheres of action, and that it belonged to men to make, apply, and execute the laws, was regarded as an almost axiomatic truth.

'In view of these facts, we are certainly warranted in saying that when the legislature gave to this court the power of granting licenses to practice law, it was with not the slightest expectation that this privilege would be extended to women.'

The court having thus denied the application, Mrs. Brad-well brought the case here as within the twenty-fifth section of the Judiciary Act, or the recent act of February 5th, 1867, amendatory thereto; the exact language of which may be seen in the Appendix.

Mr. Matthew Hale Carpenter, for the plaintiff in error:

The question does not involve the right of a female to vote. It presents a narrow matter:

Can a female citizen, duly qualified in respect of age, character, and learning, claim, under the fourteenth amendment,1 the privilege of earning a livelihood by practicing at the bar of a judicial court?

The original Constitution said:

'The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States.'

Under this provision each State could determine for itself what the privileges and immunities of its citizens should be. A citizen emigrating from one State to another carried with him, not the privileges and immunities he enjoyed in his native State, but was entitled, in the State of his adoption, to such privileges and immunities as were enjoyed by the class of citizens to which he belonged by the laws of such adopted State.

But the fourteenth amendment executes itself in every State of the Union. Whatever are the privileges and immunities of a citizen in the State of New York, such citizen, emigrating, carries them with him into any other State of the Union. It utters the will of the United States in every State, and silences every State constitution, usage, or law which conflicts with it. If to be admitted to the bar, on attaining the age and learning required by law, be one of the privileges of a white citizen in the State of New York, it is equally the privilege of a colored citizen in that State; and if in that State, then in any State. If no State may 'make or enforce any law' to abridge the privileges of a citizen, it must follow that the privileges of all citizens are the same.

Does admission to the bar belong to that class of privileges which a State may not abridge, or that class of political rights as to which a State may discriminate between its citizens?

It is evident that there are certain 'privileges and immunities' which belong to a citizen of the United States as such; otherwise it would be nonsense for the fourteenth amendment to prohibit a State from abridging them. I concede that the right to vote is not one of those privileges. And the question recurs whether admission to the bar, the proper qualification being possessed, is one of the privileges which a State may not deny.

In Cummings v. Missouri,2 this court say:

'The theory upon which our political institutions rest is, that all men have certain inalienable rights—that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and that in the pursuit of happiness all avocations, all honors, all positions, are alike open to every one, and that in the protection of these rights all are equal before the law. Any deprivation or suspension of any of these rights for past conduct is punishment, and can be in no otherwise defined.'

In Ex parte Garland,3 this court say:

'The profession of an attorney and counsellor is not like an office created by an act of Congress, which depends for its continuance, its powers, and its emoluments upon the will of its creator, and the possession of which may be burdened with any conditions not prohibited by the Constitution. Attorneys and counsellors are not officers of the United States; they are not elected or appointed in the manner prescribed by the Constitution for the election and appointment of such officers. They are officers of the court, admitted as such by its order, upon evidence of their possessing sufficient legal learning and fair private character. . . . The order of admission is the judgment of the court, that the parties possess the requisite qualifications as attorneys and counsellors, and are entitled to appear as such and conduct causes therein. From its entry the parties become officers of the court, and are responsible to it for professional...

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