In re Griffiths, 413 U.S. 717 (1973)

2012-07-16 14:27:09

In re Griffiths establishes a lawful permanent resident’s right not to be excluded from the practice of law by state and local bar associations. Fre Le Poole Griffiths, a Dutch citizen, longtime U.S. resident, and Yale Law School graduate, applied to take the Connecticut bar exam in 1970. Despite conceding that she was otherwise qualified to sit for the exam, the state of Connecticut rejected Griffiths’s application based solely on her immigration status as a non-U.S. citizen. The Supreme Court held that the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment precluded Connecticut from relying solely on Griffiths’s alienage. Subjecting the state’s exclusionary laws to strict scrutiny, the majority held that Connecticut failed to adequately justify a link between Griffiths’s Citizenship and her competence as a lawyer.

While the Court agreed that states have a substantial interest in ensuring that only qualified individuals are allowed to practice law, it rejected the notion that lawful permanent residents may be barred outright. Connecticut had argued that its lawyers perform a unique role as officers of the court—one that could call into question a noncitizen’s divided loyalties between client and country. The majority disagreed, noting that attorneys have neither policymaking nor law enforcement authority, but rather are private professionals whose qualifications are already adequately regulated by the state’s regular admission procedures and ethics rules. The civil rights legacy of In re Griffiths is its opening of the doors of equality to longtime permanent residents who desire to uphold the law through its practice. VICTOR


References and Further Reading

  • Knoppke–Wetzel, Volker, Employment Restrictions and the Practice of Law by Aliens in the United States and Abroad, Duke Law Journal (1974): 871–922.

See also Aliens, Civil Liberties of; Equal Protection of Law (XIV)