U.S. Supreme Court
Frazier v. Heebe, 482 U.S. 641 (1987)
Frazier v. Heebe
Argued April 29, 1987
Decided June 19, 1987
482 U.S. 641
Petitioner, an attorney who maintained both his residence and his law office in Mississippi and who was a member of the Mississippi and Louisiana State Bars, was denied admission to the Bar of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana because he neither lived nor had an office in Louisiana, as required by the court's local Rule 21.2. He was also ineligible under the court's Rule 21.3.1, which requires continuous and uninterrupted Louisiana residence or maintenance of a Louisiana law office for continuing eligibility in the bar. He sought a writ of prohibition from the Court of Appeals, alleging that the restrictions in the Rules were unconstitutional on their face and as applied to him. The court remanded the case to the District Court for appropriate proceedings and entry of an appealable judgment. That court upheld Rule 21.2 as constitutional. The Court of Appeals affirmed.
Held: The District Court was not empowered to adopt Rules requiring members of the Louisiana Bar who apply for admission to its bar to live, or maintain an office, in Louisiana. Pp. 482 U. S. 645-651.
(a) A district court has discretion to adopt local rules that are necessary to carry out its business, including rules governing admission to its bar. However, this Court may exercise its inherent supervisory power (as it does here) to ensure that local rules are consistent with principles of right and justice. Pp. 482 U. S. 645-646.
(b) Rule 21.2's residence requirement is unnecessary, and arbitrarily discriminates against out-of-state attorneys who are members of the Louisiana Bar and are willing to pay the necessary fees and dues in order to be admitted to the Eastern District Bar. There is no reason to believe that such attorneys are less competent than resident attorneys. Moreover, other more effective means of ensuring the competence of bar members are available to the district courts, including examination or seminar attendance requirements. Nor does an alleged need for immediate availability of attorneys require a blanket rule that denies all nonresident attorneys admission to a district court bar. As a practical matter, a high percentage of nonresident attorneys willing to take the state bar examination and pay the annual dues will reside in places reasonably chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
convenient to the district court. Moreover, modern communication systems make it possible to minimize the problem of unavailability, and district courts also have alternative means to ensure prompt attendance at important conferences. Pp. 482 U. S. 646-649.
(c) The in-state office requirement is similarly unnecessary and irrational. It is not imposed on a lawyer residing in Louisiana whose only office is out-of-state and who is equally as unavailable to the court as a nonresident lawyer with an out-of-state office. Nor does the mere fact that an attorney has an office in Louisiana warrant the assumption that he or she is more competent than an out-of-state member of the state bar. Moreover, any need the court may have to ensure the availability of attorneys does not justify the in-state office requirement. There is no link between residency within a State and proximity to a courthouse. P. 482 U. S. 650.
(d) The contention that nonresident lawyers are not totally foreclosed from Eastern District practice because they can appear pro hac vice is unpersuasive. Such alternative does not allow the nonresident attorney to practice on the same terms as a resident member of the bar. In order to appear pro hac vice under the District Court's Rules, a lawyer must associate with a member of the court's bar. Such association imposes a financial and administrative burden on nonresident counsel. Furthermore, "local" counsel may be located much farther from the courthouse than the out-of-state counsel. Pp. 482 U. S. 650-651.
788 F.2d 1049, reversed.
BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, C.J.,filed a dissenting opinion, in which O'CONNOR and SCALIA, JJ., joined, post, p. 482 U. S. 651.