Constitutional Law – Due Process – Denial of Admission to the Bar Based on Unwarranted Inferences of Bad Moral Character
Power over admission to the bar has long been vested in the judiciary of each state. While the legislature may prescribe certain standards, the state court alone is responsible for the determination of those qualified for the practice of law within its jurisdiction. The application of these standards often demands the exercise of meticulous judgment by the court in reaching its conclusion as to an applicant’s fitness. Where, on the evidence or lack of evidence presented, the court finds that it cannot in good conscience grant its approval, the candidate is denied admission. To the extent that such a denial appears unjustified, serious constitutional questions may be raised. Is the state’s determination to be final, based on a freedom to select its own bar? Or should the United States Supreme Court review this determination in order to ascertain whether the applicant’s exclusion was arbitrary in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution? Two recent cases decided by the Supreme Court, Schware v. Board of Bar Examiners of New Mexico, and Konigsberg v. State Bar of California, have shown that a denial predicated on unwarranted inferences and conclusions, especially with regard to past affiliation with the Communist Party, will be treated as offensive to due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment. The sweeping language of these opinions appears to indicate that this constitutional protection to be afforded an individual will by no means be limited to candidates for admission to the bar.