Konigsberg v. State Bar of California

Decision Date06 May 1957
Docket NumberNo. 5,5
Citation353 U.S. 252,77 S.Ct. 722,1 L.Ed.2d 810
PartiesRaphael KONIGSBERG, Petitioner, v. The STATE BAR OF CALIFORNIA and the Committee of Bar Examiners of the State Barof California
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

See 354 U.S. 927, 77 S.Ct. 1374.


Edward Mosk, Hollywood, Cal., for the petitioner.

Mr. Frank B. Belcher, Los Angeles, Cal., for the respondents.

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 Consti- tution. 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, 76 S.Ct. 832, 100 L.Ed. 1464.


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 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 page 701, 81 P.2d 935, at page 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 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 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, 73 S.Ct. 215, 97 L.Ed. 216, and Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee v. McGrath, 341 U.S. 123, 71 S.Ct. 624, 95 L.Ed. 817, where this Court condemned arbitrary findings as offensive to due process.5 Since Konigsberg challenged the sufficiency of the evidence in his petition for review, it seems clear that the State Supreme Court examined the entire record of the hearings before the Bar Examiners6 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 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 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 Supreme Court, we cannot conclude that that court, with three of its seven justices dissenting, intended to uphold petitioner's exclusion from the practice of law because his lawyer failed to elaborate in his brief the constitutional claims set forth in his petition for review and in the record of the hearings. Our conclusion is that the constitutional issues are before us and we must consider them.10


We now turn to the merits. In passing on Konigsberg's application, the Committee of Bar Examiners conducted a series of hearings. At these hearings Konigsberg was questioned at great length about his political affiliations and beliefs. Practically all of these questions were directed at finding out whether he was or ever had been a member of the Communist Party. Konigsberg declined to respond to this line of questioning, insisting that it was an intrusion into areas protected by the Federal Constitution. He also objected on the ground that California law did not require him to divulge his political associations or opinions in order to qualify for the Bar and that questions about these matters were not relevant.11 The Committee of Bar Examiners rejected Konigsberg's application on the ground that the evidence in the record raised substantial doubts about his character and his loyalty which he had failed to dispel. At the conclusion of the hearings, the Committee sent a formal written notice—which later served as the basis for his petition to the California Supreme Court—stating that his application was denied because:

1. We failed to demonstrate that he was a person of good moral character and

2. He failed to show that he did not advocate the overthrow of the Government of the United States or the State by force, violence or other unconstitutional means.

He was not denied admission to the California Bar simply because he refused to answer questions.12

In Konigsberg's petition for review to the State Supreme Court there is no suggestion that the Committee had excluded him merely for failing to respond to its inquiries. Nor did the Committee in its answer indicate that this...

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