Law Students Civil Rights Research Council, Inc. v. Wadmond

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United States Supreme Court

401 U.S. 154

Law Students Civil Rights Research Council, Inc.  v.  Wadmond

 Argued: Oct. 15, 1970. --- Decided: Feb 23, 1971


Appellants challenge, primarily on First Amendment vagueness and overbreadth grounds, the system for screening applicants for admission to the New York Bar. To carry out the statutory requirement that the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court 'be satisfied that such person possesses the character and general fitness requisite for an attorney and counsellor-at-law,' Committees on Character and Fitness receive affidavits from two persons (one of whom must be a practicing attorney) acquainted with the applicant, and a questionaire completed by the applicant. The Committees also conduct personal interviews with each applicant. As the final step before admission to the Bar, the applicant must take an oath that he will support the United States and New York Constitutions. Appellants attack the procedure, not because any applicant has ever been unjustifiably denied permission to practice law in New York, but on the basis that it works a 'chilling effect' upon the exercise of free speech and association of law students. The three-judge District Court found certain items on the questionnaire so vague, overbroad, and intrusive on applicants' privacy as to be of doubtful constitutional validity, but upheld the statute and rules as valid on their face, and with the exceptions noted, sustained the validity of the procedure. Held:

1. The 'character and general fitness' requirement for admission to the New York Bar is not violative of the Constitution. Pp. 159-160.

(3) The requirement has been construed by appellees to encompass no more than 'dishonorable conduct relevant to the legal profession.' P. 159.

(b) The current third-party affidavits, setting forth the nature and extent of affiants' acquaintance with the applicant, do not infringe upon the applicant's right to privacy. P. 160.

2. New York's Rule that an applicant furnish proof that he 'believes in the form of government of the United States and is loyal to such government,' is not constitutionally invalid in light of appellees' construction that the Rule places no burden of proof on the applicant, that the 'form of government' and the 'government' refer solely to the Constitution, and that 'belief' and 'loyalty' mean no more than willingness to take the constitutional oath and ability to do so in good faith. Pp. 161 164.

3. The challenged items on the modified questionnaire are not constitutionally invalid, as one is precisely tailored to conform to this Court's decisions on organizational membership and association, and the other is merely supportive of appellees' task of ascertaining the applicant's good faith in taking the constitutional oath. Pp. 164-166.

4. New York's carefully administered screening system does not necessarily result in chilling the exercise of constitutional freedoms, and whether a different policy might be wiser rests with that State's policy-making bodies. P. 167.

299 F.Supp. 117, affirmed.

Norman Dorsen, New York City, for appellants.

David W. Peck, New York City, for appellees.

Mr. Justice STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).