Decision Date25 June 1973
Citation413 U. S. 717
CourtU.S. Supreme Court



Appellant, a resident alien, was denied permission to take the Connecticut bar examination solely because of a citizenship requirement imposed by a state court rule, which the state courts upheld against applicant's constitutional challenge.

Held: Connecticut's exclusion of aliens from the practice of law violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Classifications based on alienage, being inherently suspect, are subject to close judicial scrutiny, and here the State through appellee bar committee has not met its burden of showing the classification to have been necessary to vindicate the State's undoubted interest in maintaining high professional standards. P P. 722-729.

162 Conn. 249, 294 A.2d 281, reversed and remanded.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which DOUGLAS, BRENNAN, STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, P. 730. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, ante P. 649.

MR. JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents a novel question as to the constraints imposed by the Equal Protection Clause of the

Page 413 U. S. 718

Fourteenth Amendment on the qualifications which a State may require for admission to the bar. Appellant, Fre Le Poole Griffiths, is a citizen of the Netherlands who came to the United States in 1965, originally as a visitor. In 1967, she married a citizen of the United States and became a resident of Connecticut. [Footnote 1] After her graduation from law school, she applied in 1970 for permission to take the Connecticut bar examination. The County Bar Association found her qualified in all respects save that she was not a citizen of the United States as required by Rule 8(1) of the Connecticut Practice Book (1963), [Footnote 2] and on that account refused to allow her to take the examination. She then sought judicial relief, asserting that the regulation was unconstitutional, but her claim was rejected, first by the Superior Court and ultimately by the Connecticut Supreme Court. 162 Conn. 249, 294 A.2d 281 (1972). We noted probable jurisdiction, 406 U.S. 966 (1972), and now hold that the rule unconstitutionally discriminates against resident aliens. [Footnote 3]


We begin by sketching the background against which the State Bar Examining Committee attempts to justify

Page 413 U. S. 719

the total exclusion of aliens from the practice of law. From its inception, our Nation welcomed and drew strength from the immigration of aliens. Their contributions to the social and economic life of the country were self-evident, especially during the periods when the demand for human resources greatly exceeded the native supply. This demand was by no means limited to the unskilled or the uneducated. In 1873, this Court noted that admission to the practice of law in the courts of a State

"in no sense depends on citizenship of the United States. It has not, as far as we know, ever been made in any State, or in any case, to depend on citizenship at all. Certainly many prominent and distinguished lawyers have been admitted to practice, both in the State and Federal courts, who were not citizens of the United States or of any State."

Bradwell v. State, 16 Wall. 130, 83 U. S. 139. [Footnote 4] But shortly thereafter, in 1879, Connecticut established the predecessor to its present rule totally excluding aliens from the practice of law. 162 Conn., at 253, 294 A.2d at 283. In subsequent decades, wide-ranging restrictions for the first time began to impair significantly the efforts of aliens to earn a livelihood in their chosen occupations. [Footnote 5]

In the face of this trend, the Court nonetheless held in 1886 that a lawfully admitted resident alien is a "person" within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment's

Page 413 U. S. 720

directive that a State must not "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U. S. 356, 369. The decision in Yick Wo invalidated a municipal ordinance regulating the operation of laundries on the ground that the ordinance was discriminatorily enforced against Chinese operators. Some years later, the Court struck down an Arizona statute requiring employers of more than five persons to employ at least 80% "qualified electors or native-born citizens of the United States or some subdivision thereof." Truax v. Raich, 239 U. S. 33, 35 (1915). As stated for the Court by Mr. Justice Hughes:

"It requires no argument to show 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. [Citations omitted.] If this could be refused solely upon the ground of race or nationality, the prohibition of the denial to any person of the equal protection of the laws would be a barren form of words."

Id. at 239 U. S. 41.

To be sure, the course of decisions protecting the employment rights of resident aliens has not been an unswerving one. [Footnote 6] In Clarke v. Deckebach, 274 U. S. 392 (1927), the Court was faced with a challenge to a city ordinance prohibiting the issuance to aliens of licenses to operate pool and billiard rooms. Characterizing the business as one having "harmful and vicious tendencies," the Court found no constitutional infirmity in the ordinance:

"It was competent for the city to make such a choice, not shown to be irrational, by excluding from

Page 413 U. S. 721

the conduct of a dubious business an entire class rather than its objectionable members selected by more empirical methods."

Id. at 274 U. S. 397. This easily expandable proposition supported discrimination against resident aliens in a wide range of occupations. [Footnote 7]

But the doctrinal foundations of Clarke were undermined in Takahashi v. Fish & Game Comm'n, 334 U. S. 410 (1948), where, in ruling unconstitutional a California statute barring issuance of fishing licenses to persons "ineligible to citizenship," the Court stated that "the power of a state to apply its laws exclusively to its alien inhabitants as a class is confined within narrow limits." Id. at 334 U. S. 420. Indeed, with the issue squarely before it in Graham v. Richardson, 403 U. S. 365 (1971), the Court concluded:

"[C]lassifications based on alienage, like those based on nationality or race, are inherently suspect and subject to close judicial scrutiny. Aliens as a class are a prime example of a 'discrete and insular' minority (see United States v. Carolene Products Co., 304 U. S. 144, 152-153, n. 4 (1938)) for whom such heightened judicial solicitude is appropriate."

Id. at 403 U. S. 372. (Footnotes omitted.)

The Court has consistently emphasized that a State which adopts a suspect classification "bears a heavy burden of justification," McLaughlin v. Florida, 379 U. S. 184, 196 (1964), a burden which, though variously formulated, requires the State to meet certain standards of proof. In order to justify the use of a suspect classification, a State must show that its purpose or interest is

Page 413 U. S. 722

both constitutionally permissible [Footnote 8] and substantial, [Footnote 9] and that its use of the classification is "necessary . . . to the accomplishment" of its purpose [Footnote 10] or the safeguarding of its interest. [Footnote 11]

Resident aliens, like citizens, pay taxes, support the economy, serve in the Armed Forces, and contribute in myriad other ways to our society. It is appropriate that a State bear a heavy burden when it deprives them of employment opportunities.


We hold that the Committee, acting on behalf of the State, has not carried its burden. The State's ultimate interest here implicated is to assure the requisite qualifications of persons licensed to practice law. [Footnote 12] It is undisputed that a State has a constitutionally permissible and substantial interest in determining whether an applicant

Page 413 U. S. 723

possesses "the character and general fitness requisite for an attorney and counselor at law.'" Law Students Research Council v. Wadmond, 401 U. S. 154, 159 (191). See also Konigsberg v. State Bar, 366 U. S. 36, 40 41 (1961); Schware v. Board of Bar Examiners, 353 U. S. 232, 239 (1957). [Footnote 13] But no question is raised in this case as to appellant's character or general fitness. Rather, the sole basis for disqualification is her status as a resident alien.

The Committee defends Rule 8(1)'s requirement that applicants for admission to the bar be citizens of the United States on the ground that the special role of the lawyer justifies excluding aliens from the practice of law. In Connecticut, the Committee points out, the maxim that a lawyer is an "officer of the court" is given concrete meaning by a statute which makes every lawyer a "commissioner of the Superior Court." As such, a lawyer has authority to "sign writs and subpoenas, take recognizances, administer oaths and take depositions and acknowledgements of deeds." Conn.Gen.Stat.Rev. § 51-85. In the exercise of this authority, a Connecticut lawyer may command the assistance of a county sheriff or a town constable. Conn.Gen.Stat.Rev. § 590. Because of these and other powers, the Connecticut Supreme Court commented that

"[t]he courts not only demand [lawyers'] loyalty, confidence and respect, but also require them to function in a manner which will foster public confidence

Page 413 U. S. 724

in the profession and, consequently, the judicial system."

162 Conn., at 262-263, 294 A.2d at 287. In order to establish a link between citizenship and the powers and responsibilities of the lawyer in Connecticut, the Committee contrasts a citizen's undivided allegiance to this country with a resident alien's possible conflict of loyalties. From this, the...

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