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U.S. Supreme Court

Schware v. Board of Bar Examiners, 353 U.S. 232 (1957)

Schware v. Board of Bar Examiners of New Mexico

No. 92

Argued January 14-15, 1957

Decided May 6, 1957

353 U.S. 232


In 1953 the Board of Bar Examiners of New Mexico refused to permit petitioner to take the bar examination, on the ground that he had not shown "good moral character," and thereby precluded his admission to the bar of that State. It was conceded that petitioner was qualified in all other respects. Petitioner made a strong showing of good moral character, except that it appeared that, from 1933 to 1937, he had used certain aliases, that he had been arrested (but never tried or convicted) on several occasions prior to 1940, and that, from 1932 to 1940, he was a member of the Communist Party. The State Supreme Court sustained the Board.

Held: On the record in this case, the State of New Mexico deprived petitioner of due process in denying him the opportunity to qualify for the practice of law. Pp. 353 U. S. 233-247.

(a) A State cannot exclude a person from the practice of law or from any other occupation in a manner or for reasons that contravene the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 353 U. S. 238-239.

(b) A State can require high standards of qualifications, such as good moral character or proficiency in its law, before it admits an applicant to the bar; but any qualification must have a rational connection with the applicant's fitness or capacity to practice law. P. 353 U. S. 239.

(c) Even in applying permissible standards, officers of the State cannot exclude an applicant when there is no basis for their finding that he fails to meet these standards, or when their action is invidiously discriminatory. P. 353 U. S. 239.

(d) Whether the practice of law is a "right" or a "privilege" need not here be determined; it is not a matter of the State's grace, and a person cannot be barred except for valid reasons. P. 353 U. S. 239, n 5.

(e) Petitioner's use from 1934 to 1937 of certain aliases, for purposes which were not wrong and not to cheat or defraud, does chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 353 U. S. 233

not support an inference of bad moral character more than 20 years later. Pp. 353 U. S. 240-241.

(f) The arrests of petitioner are insufficient to support a finding that he had bad moral character at the time he applied to take the bar examination. Pp. 353 U. S. 241-243.

(g) Petitioner's membership in the Communist Party from 1932 to 1940 does not justify an inference that he presently has bad moral character. Pp. 353 U. S. 243-246.

(h) The use of aliases, the arrests, and former membership in the Communist Party do not in combination warrant exclusion of petitioner from the practice of law. P. 353 U. S. 246.

(i) In the light of petitioner's forceful showing of good moral character, the evidence upon which the State relies cannot be said to raise substantial doubts as to his present good moral character. P. 353 U. S. 246.

60 N.M. 304, 291 P.2d 607, reversed and remanded.

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