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KONIGSBERG v. STATE BAR, 353 U.S. 252 (1957)

U.S. Supreme Court

KONIGSBERG v. STATE BAR, 353 U.S. 252 (1957)

353 U.S. 252

No. 5.
Argued January 14, 1957.
Decided May 6, 1957.

In 1954 the Committee of Bar Examiners of California refused to certify petitioner to practice law in that State, though he had satisfactorily passed the bar examination, on the grounds that he had failed to prove (1) that he was of good moral character, and (2) that he did not advocate forcible overthrow of the Government. He sought review by the State Supreme Court, contending that the Committee's action deprived him of rights secured by the Fourteenth Amendment. The State Supreme Court denied his petition without opinion. Held:

Reversed and remanded. [353 U.S. 252, 253]  

Edward Mosk argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the brief was Samuel Rosenwein.

Frank B. Belcher argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief was Ralph E. Lewis.

Briefs of amici curiae in support of petitioner were filed by A. L. Wirin for the American Civil Liberties Union, Southern California Branch, and Osmond K. Fraenkel for the National Lawyers Guild.

MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petitioner, Raphael Konigsberg, graduated from the Law School of the University of Southern California in 1953 and four months later satisfactorily passed the California bar examination. Nevertheless, the State Committee of Bar Examiners, after several hearings, refused to certify him to practice law on the grounds he had failed to prove (1) that he was of good moral character and (2) that he did not advocate overthrow of the Government of the United States or California by unconstitutional means. 1 As permitted by state law, Konigsberg asked the California Supreme Court to review the Committee's refusal to give him its certification. He contended that he had satisfactorily proved that he met all the requirements for admission to the bar, and that the Committee's action deprived him of rights secured by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. [353 U.S. 252, 254]   The State Supreme Court, without opinion, and with three of its seven justices dissenting, denied his petition for review. We granted certiorari because the constitutional questions presented were substantial. 351 U.S. 936 .


Before reaching the merits, we must first consider the State's contention that this Court does not have jurisdiction to review the case. The State argues (1) that petitioner did not present his constitutional claims to the California Supreme Court in the manner prescribed by that court's rules, and (2) that the state court's decision not to grant him relief can be attributed to his failure to conform to its procedural rules rather than to a rejection of his constitutional claims.

In considering actions of the Committee of Bar Examiners the California Supreme Court exercises original jurisdiction and is not restricted to the limited review made by an appellate court. For example, that court declared in In re Lacey, 11 Cal. 2d 699, at 701, 81 P.2d 935, at 936:

The California Supreme Court has a special rule, Rule 59 (b), which governs review of actions of the Bar Examiners. 3 Rule 59 (b) requires that a petition for review "shall specify the grounds relied on and shall be accompanied by petitioner's brief." Konigsberg complied with this rule. In his petition for review he specifically charged that the findings of the Committee were not supported by any lawful evidence. 4 The petition then went on to assert that the Committee's action, which was based on findings that the petition had previously alleged were not supported by evidence, was an attempt by the State of California in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to deprive him "of liberty or property without due process of law" and to deny him "the equal protection of the laws."

Throughout the hearings before the Bar Examiners Konigsberg repeatedly objected to questions about his beliefs and associations asserting that such inquiries infringed rights guaranteed him by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. He urged that the Committee would abridge freedom of speech, press and assembly, violate due process, and deny equal protection of the laws if it denied his application because of his [353 U.S. 252, 256]   political opinions, writings, and affiliations. He asserted that he had affirmatively proved his good moral character and that there was no legal basis for finding that he was morally unfit to practice law. He insisted that in determining whether he was qualified the Committee had to comply with due process of law and cited as supporting his position Wieman v. Updegraff, 344 U.S. 183 , and Joint Anti-Fascist Committee v. McGrath, 341 U.S. 123 , where this Court condemned arbitrary findings as offensive to due process. 5 Since Konigsberg challenged the sufficiency of the evidence in his petition for review, it seems clear that the State Supreme Court examined the entire record of the hearings before the Bar Examiners 6 and must have been aware of the constitutional arguments made by Konigsberg during the hearings and the authorities relied on to support these arguments.

The State contends, however, that it was not enough for Konigsberg to raise his constitutional objections in his petition, in the manner prescribed by Rule 59 (b), and at the hearings. It claims that under California practice the State Supreme Court will not consider a contention unless it is supported by an argument and citation of authorities in a brief submitted by the person seeking review. Because Konigsberg's brief did not repeat, precisely and in detail, the constitutional objections set forth in his petition, 7 the argument continues, this Court is compelled to hold that the State Supreme Court could have refused relief to petitioner on a narrow procedural ground. But the California cases cited by the State do not require such a conclusion. It is true that the State [353 U.S. 252, 257]   Supreme Court has insisted that on appeal in ordinary civil cases alleged errors should be pointed out clearly and concisely, with reasons why they are erroneous, and with reference to supporting authorities. 8 However this case was not reviewed under the rules of appeal which apply to the ordinary civil case but rather under a special rule applying to original proceedings. We are pointed to nothing which indicates that the State Supreme Court has adopted any rule in this type of case which requires that contentions raised in the petition for review must also be set out in the brief. The one case cited, Johnson v. State Bar of California, 4 Cal. 2d 744, 52 P.2d 928, indicates the contrary. In challenging the recommendation of the Board of Governors of the State Bar that he be suspended from the practice of law, Johnson alleged, apparently in an offhand way, that the entire State Bar Act was "unconstitutional." He made no argument and cited no authority to support this bare, sweeping assertion. While the court said that this was an insufficient presentation of the issue it nevertheless went ahead to consider and reject Johnson's argument and to hold the Act constitutional.

Counsel for California concedes that the state courts in criminal cases often pass on issues ineptly argued in a defendant's brief or sometimes not raised there at all. 9 As counsel states, the reasons for relaxing this standard in criminal cases are obvious - such cases may involve forfeiture of the accused's property, liberty, or life. While this is not a criminal case, its consequences for Konigsberg take it out of the ordinary run of civil cases. The Committee's action prevents him from earning [353 U.S. 252, 258]   a living by practicing law. This deprivation has grave consequences for a man who has spent years of study and a great deal of money in preparing to be a lawyer.

In view of the grounds relied on in Konigsberg's petition for review, his repeated assertions throughout the hearings of various federal constitutional rights, and the practices of the California Supreme Court, we cannot conclude that that court, with three of its seven justices dissenting, intended to uphold petitioner's exclusion from the practice of law because his lawyer failed to elaborate in his brief the constitutional claims set forth in his petition for review and in the record of the hearings. Our conclusion is that the constitutional issues are before us and we must consider them. 10  


We now turn to the merits. In passing on Konigsberg's application, the Committee of Bar Examiners conducted a series of hearings. At these hearings Konigsberg was questioned at great length about his political affiliations and beliefs. Practically all of these questions were directed at finding out whether he was or ever had been a member of the Communist Party. Konigsberg declined to respond to this line of questioning, insisting that it was an intrusion into areas protected by the Federal Constitution. He also objected on the ground that California law did not require him to divulge his political associations or opinions in order to qualify for the Bar and that questions about these matters were not relevant. 11   [353 U.S. 252, 259]  

The Committee of Bar Examiners rejected Konigsberg's application on the ground that the evidence in the record raised substantial doubts about his character and his loyalty which he had failed to dispel. At the conclusion of the hearings, the Committee sent a formal written notice - which later served as the basis for his petition to the California Supreme Court - stating that his application was denied because:

He was not denied admission to the California Bar simply because he refused to answer questions. 12  

In Konigsberg's petition for review to the State Supreme Court there is no suggestion that the Committee had excluded him merely for failing to respond to its inquiries. Nor did the Committee in its answer indicate that this was the basis for its action. After responding to Konigsberg's allegations, the Bar Committee set forth a defense [353 U.S. 252, 260]   of its action which in substance repeated the reasons it had given Konigsberg in the formal notice of denial for rejecting his application. 13  

There is nothing in the California statutes, the California decisions, or even in the Rules of the Bar Committee, which has been called to our attention, that suggests that failure to answer a Bar Examiner's inquiry is, ipso facto, a basis for excluding an applicant from the [353 U.S. 252, 261]   Bar, irrespective of how overwhelming is his showing of good character or loyalty or how flimsy are the suspicions of the Bar Examiners. Serious questions of elemental fairness would be raised if the Committee had excluded Konigsberg simply because he failed to answer questions without first explicitly warning him that he could be barred for this reason alone, even though his moral character and loyalty were unimpeachable, and then giving him a chance to comply. 14 In our opinion, there is nothing in the record which indicates that the Committee, in a matter of such grave importance to Konigsberg, applied a brand new exclusionary rule to his application - all without telling him that it was doing so. 15  

If it were possible for us to say that the Board had barred Konigsberg solely because of his refusal to respond to its inquiries into his political associations and his opinions about matters of public interest, then we would be compelled to decide far-reaching and complex questions relating to freedom of speech, press and assembly. There is no justification for our straining to reach these difficult problems when the Board itself has not seen fit, at any time, to base its exclusion of Konigsberg on his failure to answer. If and when a State makes failure to answer a question an independent ground for exclusion from the Bar, then this Court, as the cases arise, will have to determine whether the exclusion is constitutionally permissible. We do not mean to intimate any view on that [353 U.S. 252, 262]   problem here nor do we mean to approve or disapprove Konigsberg's refusal to answer the particular questions asked him.

We now pass to the issue which we believe is presented in this case: Does the evidence in the record support any reasonable doubts about Konigsberg's good character or his loyalty to the Governments of State and Nation? In considering this issue, we must, of course, take into account the Committee's contention that Konigsberg's failure to respond to questions was evidence from which some inference of doubtful character and loyalty can be drawn.

Konigsberg claims that he established his good moral character by overwhelming evidence and carried the burden of proving that he does not advocate overthrow of the Government. He contends here, as he did in the California court, that there is no evidence in the record which rationally supports a finding of doubt about his character or loyalty. If this contention is correct, he has been denied the right to practice law although there was no basis for the finding that he failed to meet the qualifications which the State demands of a person seeking to become a lawyer. If this is true, California's refusal to admit him is a denial of due process and of equal protection of the laws because both arbitrary and discriminatory. 16 After examination of the record, 17 we are compelled to agree with Konigsberg that the evidence does not rationally support the only two grounds upon which the Committee relied in rejecting his application for admission to the California Bar.

A. Good Moral Character. - The term "good moral character" has long been used as a qualification for [353 U.S. 252, 263]   membership in the Bar and has served a useful purpose in this respect. However the term, by itself, is unusually ambiguous. It can be defined in an almost unlimited number of ways for any definition will necessarily reflect the attitudes, experiences, and prejudices of the definer. 18 Such a vague qualification, which is easily adapted to fit personal views and predilections, can be a dangerous instrument for arbitrary and discriminatory denial of the right to practice law.

While we do not have the benefit of a definition of "good moral character" by the California Supreme Court in this case, counsel for the State tells us that the definition of that term adopted in California "stresses elements of honesty, fairness and respect for the rights of others and for the laws of the state and nation." The decisions of California courts cited here do not support so broad a definition as claimed by counsel. These cases instead appear to define "good moral character" in terms of an absence of proven conduct or acts which have been historically considered as manifestations of "moral turpitude." To illustrate, California has held that an applicant did not have good character who had been convicted of forgery and had practiced law without a license, 19 or who had obtained money by false representations and had committed fraud upon a court, 20 or who had submitted false affidavits to the Committee along with his application for admission. 21 It should be emphasized that neither the definition proposed by counsel nor those appearing in the California cases equates unorthodox political beliefs or membership in lawful political parties [353 U.S. 252, 264]   with bad moral character. Assuming for purposes of this case that counsel's broad definition of "good moral character" is the one adopted in California, the question is whether on the whole record a reasonable man could fairly find that there were substantial doubts about Konigsberg's "honesty, fairness and respect for the rights of others and for the laws of the state and nation."

A person called on to prove his character is compelled to turn to the people who know him. Here, forty-two individuals who had known Konigsberg at different times during the past twenty years attested to his excellent character. 22 These testimonials came from persons in every walk of life. Included among them were a Catholic priest, a Jewish rabbi, lawyers, doctors, professors, businessmen and social workers. The following are typical of the statements made about Konigsberg:

An instructor at the University of Southern California Law School:

A rabbi:

A lawyer:

A Catholic Monsignor:

Other witnesses testified to Konigsberg's belief in democracy and devotion to democratic ideas, his principled convictions, his honesty and integrity, his conscientiousness and competence in his work, his concern and affection for his wife and children and his loyalty to the country. These, of course, have traditionally been the kind of qualities that make up good moral character. The significance of the statements made by these witnesses about Konigsberg is enhanced by the fact that they had known him as an adult while he was employed in responsible professional positions. Even more significant, not a single person has testified that Konigsberg's moral character was bad or questionable in any way.

Konigsberg's background, which was also before the Committee, furnished strong proof that his life had always been honest and upright. Born in Austria in 1911, he was brought to this country when eight years old. After graduating from Ohio State University in 1931, he taught American history and literature for a time in a Cleveland high school. In 1934 he was given a scholarship to Ohio State University and there received his Master of Arts degree in Social Administration. He was then employed by the District of Columbia as a supervisor in its Department of Health. In 1936 he went to California where he worked as an executive for several social agencies and at one time served as District Supervisor [353 U.S. 252, 266]   for the California State Relief Administration. With our entry into the Second World War, he volunteered for the Army and was commissioned a second lieutenant. He was selected for training as an orientation officer in the Army's information and education program and in that capacity served in North Africa, Italy, France, and Germany. He was promoted to captain and while in Germany was made orientation officer for the entire Seventh Army. As an orientation officer one of his principal functions was to explain to soldiers the advantages of democracy as compared with totalitarianism. After his honorable discharge in 1946 he resumed his career in social work. In 1950, at the age of thirtynine, Konigsberg entered the Law School of the University of Southern California and was graduated in 1953. There is no criticism in the record of his professional work, his military service, or his performance at the law school.

Despite Konigsberg's forceful showing of good moral character and the fact that there is no evidence that he has ever been convicted of any crime or has ever done anything base or depraved, the State nevertheless argues that substantial doubts were raised about his character by: (1) the testimony of an ex-Communist that Konigsberg had attended meetings of a Communist Party unit in 1941; (2) his criticism of certain public officials and their policies; and (3) his refusal to answer certain questions about his political associations and beliefs. When these items are analyzed, we believe that it cannot rationally be said that they support substantial doubts about Konigsberg's moral fitness to practice law.

(1) Testimony of the Ex-Communist. - The suspicion that Konigsberg was or had been a Communist was based chiefly on the testimony of a single ex-Communist that Konigsberg had attended meetings of a Communist Party unit in 1941. From the witness' testimony it appears that this unit was some kind of discussion group. On cross-examination [353 U.S. 252, 267]   she conceded that her sole basis for believing that Konigsberg was a member of that party was his attendance at these meetings. Her testimony concerned events that occurred many years before and her identification of Konigsberg was not very convincing. 23 She admitted that she had not known him personally and never had any contact with him except at these meetings in 1941. Konigsberg denied that he had ever seen her or known her. And in response to a Bar Examiner's question as to whether he was a communist, in the philosophical sense, as distinguished from a member of the Communist Party, Konigsberg replied: "If you want a categorical answer to `Are you a communist?' the answer is no." 24  

Even if it be assumed that Konigsberg was a member of the Communist Party in 1941, the mere fact of membership would not support an inference that he did not have good moral character. 25 There was no evidence that he ever engaged in or abetted any unlawful or immoral activities - or even that he knew of or supported any actions of this nature. It may be, although there is no evidence in the record before us to that effect, that some members of that party were involved in illegal or disloyal activities, but petitioner cannot be swept into this group [353 U.S. 252, 268]   solely on the basis of his alleged membership in that party. In 1941 the Communist Party was a recognized political party in the State of California. Citizens of that State were free to belong to that party if they wanted to do so. The State had not attempted to attach penalties of any kind to membership in the Communist Party. Its candidates' names were on the ballots California submitted to its voters. Those who accepted the State at its word and joined that party had a right to expect that the State would not penalize them, directly or indirectly, for doing so thereafter. 26  

(2) Criticism of Certain Public Officials and Their Policies. - In 1950 Konigsberg wrote a series of editorials for a local newspaper. In these editorials he severely criticized, among other things, this country's participation in the Korean War, the actions and policies of the leaders of the major political parties, the influence of "big business" in American life, racial discrimination, and this Court's decisions in Dennis and other cases. 27 When read in the light of the ordinary give-and-take of political controversy the editorials Konigsberg wrote are not unusually [353 U.S. 252, 269]   extreme and fairly interpreted only say that certain officials were performing their duties in a manner that, in the opinion of the writer, was injurious to the public. We do not believe that an inference of bad moral character can rationally be drawn from these editorials. 28 Because of the very nature of our democracy such expressions of political views must be permitted. Citizens have a right under our constitutional system to criticize government officials and agencies. Courts are not, and should not be, immune to such criticism. 29 Government censorship can no more be reconciled with our national constitutional standard of freedom of speech and press when done in the guise of determining "moral character," than if it should be attempted directly.

(3) Refusal to Answer Questions. - During the prolonged hearings before the Committee of Bar Examiners, Konigsberg was not asked directly about his honesty, trustworthiness, or other traits which are generally thought of as related to good character. Almost all of the Bar Examiners' questions concerned his political affiliations, editorials and beliefs. Konigsberg repeatedly declined to answer such questions, explaining that his refusal was based on his understanding that under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution a State could not inquire into a person's political opinions or associations and that he had a duty not to answer. Essentially, this is the same stand he had [353 U.S. 252, 270]   taken several years before when called upon to answer similar questions before the Tenney Committee.

The State argues that Konigsberg's refusal to tell the Examiners whether he was a member of the Communist Party or whether he had associated with persons who were members of that party or groups which were allegedly Communist dominated tends to support an inference that he is a member of the Communist Party and therefore a person of bad moral character. We find it unnecessary to decide if Konigsberg's constitutional objections to the Committee's questions were well founded. Prior decisions by this Court indicate that his claim that the questions were improper was not frivolous 30 and we find nothing in the record which indicates that his position was not taken in good faith. Obviously the State could not draw unfavorable inferences as to his truthfulness, candor or his moral character in general if his refusal to answer was based on a belief that the United States Constitution prohibited the type of inquiries which the Committee was making. 31 On the record before us, it is our judgment that the inferences of bad moral character which the Committee attempted to draw from [353 U.S. 252, 271]   Konigsberg's refusal to answer questions about his political affiliations and opinions are unwarranted.

B. Advocating the Overthrow of Government by Force. - The Committee also found that Konigsberg had failed to prove that he did not advocate the overthrow of the Government of the United States or California by force and violence. Konigsberg repeatedly testified under oath before the Committee that he did not believe in nor advocate the overthrow of any government in this country by any unconstitutional means. For example, in response to one question as to whether he advocated overthrowing the Government, he emphatically declared: "I answer specifically I do not, I never did or never will." No witness testified to the contrary. As a matter of fact, many of the witnesses gave testimony which was utterly inconsistent with the premise that he was disloyal. 32 And Konigsberg told the Committee that he was ready at any time to take an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of California. 33  

Even if it be assumed that Konigsberg belonged to the Communist Party in 1941, this does not provide a reasonable basis for a belief that he presently advocates overthrowing the Government by force. 34 The ex-Communist, who testified that Konigsberg attended meetings of a Communist unit in 1941, could not remember any statements by him or anyone else at those meetings advocating [353 U.S. 252, 272]   the violent overthrow of the Government. And certainly there is nothing in the newspaper editorials that Konigsberg wrote that tends to support a finding that he champions violent overthrow. Instead, the editorials expressed hostility to such a doctrine. For example, Konigsberg wrote:

Counsel for California offers the following editorial as evidence that Konigsberg advocates overthrow of the Government by force and violence:

On its surface this editorial does not appear to be a call for armed revolution. To the contrary, it manifests a strongly held conviction for our constitutional system of government. However, the State attempts to draw an inference adverse to Konigsberg from his use of the word "militant" which it points out in one sense means "warlike." To us it seems far-fetched to say that exhortation to "militant" support of America's "noble ideals" demonstrates [353 U.S. 252, 273]   a willingness to overthrow our democratic institutions. 35  

We recognize the importance of leaving States free to select their own bars, but it is equally important that the State not exercise this power in an arbitrary or discriminatory manner nor in such way as to impinge on the freedom of political expression or association. A bar composed of lawyers of good character is a worthy objective but it is unnecessary to sacrifice vital freedoms in order to obtain that goal. It is also important both to society and the bar itself that lawyers be unintimidated - free to think, speak, and act as members of an Independent Bar. 36 In this case we are compelled to conclude that there is no evidence in the record which rationally justifies a finding that Konigsberg failed to establish his good moral character or failed to show that he did not advocate forceful overthrow of the Government. Without some authentic reliable evidence of unlawful or immoral actions reflecting adversely upon him, it is difficult to comprehend why the State Bar Committee rejected a man of Konigsberg's background and character as morally unfit to practice law. As we said before, the mere fact of Konigsberg's past membership in the Communist Party, if true, without anything more, is not an adequate basis for concluding that he is disloyal or a person of bad character. A lifetime of good citizenship [353 U.S. 252, 274]   is worth very little if it is so frail that it cannot withstand the suspicions which apparently were the basis for the Committee's action.

The judgment of the court below is reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.


[ Footnote 1 ] Under California procedure the State Supreme Court may admit a person to the bar upon certification by the Committee of Bar Examiners that he meets the necessary requirements. California Business and Professions Code, 1937, 6064. Section 6060 (c) requires that an applicant must have "good moral character" before he can be certified. Section 6064.1 provides that no person "who advocates the overthrow of the Government of the United States or of this State by force, violence, or other unconstitutional means, shall be certified to the Supreme Court for admission and a license to practice law."

[ Footnote 2 ] See also Preston v. State Bar of California, 28 Cal. 2d 643, 171 P.2d 435; Brydonjack v. State Bar of California, 208 Cal. 439, 281 P. 1018.

[ Footnote 3 ] Rule 59 (b) is set out at 36 Cal. 2d 43. Generally, the California Supreme Court divides its rules into two main parts: (1) "Rules on Appeal," which govern appeals in civil and criminal cases; and (2) "Rules on Original Proceedings in Reviewing Courts."

[ Footnote 4 ] The petition asserted:

[ Footnote 5 ] He also referred to Near v. Minnesota, 283 U.S. 697 , and Frost & Frost Trucking Co. v. Railroad Commission of California, 271 U.S. 583 .

[ Footnote 6 ] Cf. In re Admission to Practice Law, 1 Cal. 2d 61, 33 P.2d 829.

[ Footnote 7 ] The brief did refer to pages of the record where constitutional arguments were made and cases cited to support them.

[ Footnote 8 ] People v. McLean, 135 Cal. 306, 67 P. 770; Title G. & T. Co. v. Fraternal Finance Co., 220 Cal. 362, 30 P.2d 515.

[ Footnote 9 ] See, e. g., People v. Hadley, 175 Cal. 118, 119, 165 P. 442, 443; People v. Yaroslawsky, 110 Cal. App. 175, 176, 293 P. 815, 816; People v. Buck, 72 Cal. App. 322, 237 P. 63.

[ Footnote 10 ] Cf. Bryant v. Zimmerman, 278 U.S. 63, 67 ; Rogers v. Alabama, 192 U.S. 226 ; Bridge Proprietors v. Hoboken Co., 1 Wall. 116.

[ Footnote 11 ] The record, when read as a whole, shows that Konigsberg took the position that he would answer all questions about his character or loyalty except those directed to his political views and beliefs and [353 U.S. 252, 259]   to questions about membership in the Communist Party. The record also shows that the Committee made no effort to pursue any other course of interrogation.

[ Footnote 12 ] Neither the Committee as a whole nor any of its members ever intimated that Konigsberg would be barred just because he refused to answer relevant inquiries or because he was obstructing the Committee. Some members informed him that they did not necessarily accept his position that they were not entitled to inquire into his political associations and opinions and said that his failure to answer would have some bearing on their determination of whether he was qualified. But they never suggested that his failure to answer their questions was, by itself, a sufficient independent ground for denial of his application.

[ Footnote 13 ] The answer, in pertinent part, read as follows:

As pointed out in note 1, supra, 6064.1 excludes applicants who advocate the overthrow of the Government of California or the United States by "unconstitutional means," while 6060 (c) requires that an applicant must have good moral character.

[ Footnote 14 ] Cf. Cole v. Arkansas, 333 U.S. 196, 201 .

[ Footnote 15 ] In presenting its version of the questions before this Court, the Bar Committee did not suggest that the denial of Konigsberg's application could be upheld merely because he had failed to answer questions. Nor was such a position taken on oral argument. Counsel, instead, reiterated what the Bar Committee had contended throughout, namely, that Konigsberg was rejected because he failed to dispel substantial doubts raised by the evidence in the record about his character and loyalty.

[ Footnote 16 ] Schware v. Board of Bar Examiners, ante, p. 232; cf. Wieman v. Updegraff, 344 U.S. 183 .

[ Footnote 17 ] Cf. Local Union No. 10 v. Graham, 345 U.S. 192, 197 .

[ Footnote 18 ] See Jordan v. De George, 341 U.S. 223, 232 (dissenting opinion); United States ex rel. Iorio v. Day, 34 F.2d 920, 921; Cahn, Authority and Responsibility, 51 Col. L. Rev. 838.

[ Footnote 19 ] In re Garland, 219 Cal. 661, 28 P.2d 354.

[ Footnote 20 ] In re Wells, 174 Cal. 467, 163 P. 657.

[ Footnote 21 ] Spears v. State Bar of California, 211 Cal. 183, 294 P. 697.

[ Footnote 22 ] This testimony was in the form of written statements. Konigsberg offered to produce witnesses to testify in person but the Board preferred to have their statements in writing.

[ Footnote 23 ] Counsel for the Bar Committee acknowledged this in oral argument. He stated: "Now Mrs. Bennett's testimony left much to be desired, that I concede. Her identification of this man is not all that you might wish."

[ Footnote 24 ] Konigsberg gave this answer during the first hearing held by the Committee. He was not represented by counsel at the time. At a subsequent hearing he stated that his earlier willingness to answer this question was inconsistent with his general position that the Committee had no right to inquire into his political associations and beliefs. He said he would not answer if the same question were then presented to him.

[ Footnote 25 ] Schware v. Board of Bar Examiners, ante, p. 232; Wieman v. Updegraff, 344 U.S. 183 . See Schneiderman v. United States, 320 U.S. 118, 136 .

[ Footnote 26 ] Cf. Ex parte Garland, 4 Wall. 333, where this Court struck down an attempt to exclude from the practice of law individuals who had taken up arms against the United States in the War Between the States. See also Cummings v. Missouri, 4 Wall. 277; Brown and Fassett, Loyalty Tests for Admission to the Bar, 20 U. of Chi. L. Rev. 480 (1953).

[ Footnote 27 ] For example, petitioner wrote:

[ Footnote 28 ] In 1948 Konigsberg appeared before the Un-American Activities Committee of the California Senate, commonly known as the Tenney Committee. At that time he sharply criticized this committee, accusing it of subverting the liberties of Americans, and declared:

The State points to petitioner's criticism of this committee as casting doubt on his moral character. What is said in the text disposes of this contention.

[ Footnote 29 ] Cf. Bridges v. California, 314 U.S. 252 .

[ Footnote 30 ] See, e. g., United States v. Rumely, 345 U.S. 41, 48 (concurring opinion); Thomas v. Collins, 323 U.S. 516, 531 ; West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 642 ; Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 303 -304; De Jonge v. Oregon, 299 U.S. 353, 365 -366. A dissenting opinion in Jones v. Opelika, 316 U.S. 584, 611 , 618, which was adopted on rehearing, 319 U.S. 103 , declared: "Freedom to think is absolute of its own nature; the most tyrannical government is powerless to control the inward workings of the mind."

[ Footnote 31 ] Cf. Slochower v. Board of Education, 350 U.S. 551, 557 ; Sheiner v. Florida, 82 So.2d 657; Ex parte Marshall, 165 Miss. 523, 147 So. 791. And see Ullmann v. United States, 350 U.S. 422, 426 -428; Opinion of the Justices, 332 Mass. 763, 767-768, 126 N. E. 2d 100, 102-103; In re Holland, 377 Ill. 346, 36 N. E. 2d 543; Matter of Grae, 282 N. Y. 428, 26 N. E. 2d 963.

[ Footnote 32 ] See, for example, text at pp. 264-265.

[ Footnote 33 ] California Business and Professions Code, 1937, 6067, requires:

[ Footnote 34 ] Compare the discussion in the text at footnote 25, supra, and see cases cited in that footnote.

[ Footnote 35 ] Petitioner also contends that it violates due process to make advocacy of overthrow of the Government of the United States or of a State by force, violence, or other unconstitutional means an automatic ground for denying the right to practice law regardless of the reasons for or the nature of such advocacy. Because of our disposition of the case, it is unnecessary to consider this argument.

[ Footnote 36 ] See Cammer v. United States, 350 U.S. 399, 406 -407. Compare Chafee, the Harvard Law School Record, Nov. 1, 1950, and Nov. 8, 1950.


Insistence on establishment of the Court's jurisdiction is too often treated, with slighting intent, as a "technicality." In truth, due regard for the requirements of the conditions that alone give this Court power to review the judgment of the highest court of a State is a matter of deep importance to the working of our federalism. The admonition uttered a hundred years ago by Benjamin R. Curtis, one of the ablest Justices who ever sat on this Court, cannot be too often repeated: "Let it be remembered, also, - for just now we may be in some danger of forgetting it, - that questions of jurisdiction were questions of power as between the United States and the several States." 2 Memoir of Curtis 340-341. The importance of keeping within the limits of federal jurisdiction was emphasized in the opinion of Mr. Justice Stone, for a unanimous Court, in Healy v. Ratta, 292 U.S. 263, 270 : "Due regard for the rightful independence of state governments, which should actuate federal courts, requires that they scrupulously confine their own jurisdiction to the precise limits which the statute [`the action of Congress in conformity to the judiciary sections of the Constitution'] has defined."

Prerequisites to the power of this Court to review a judgment of a state court are that a federal claim was [353 U.S. 252, 275]   properly before the state court and that the state court based its decision on that claim. If a state court judgment is rested on a non-federal ground, i. e., on relevant state law, this Court is constitutionally barred from reviewing it. While a State may not, under the guise of regulating its local procedure, strangle a federal claim so as to prevent it from coming before a state court, it has the undoubted power to prescribe appropriate procedure for bringing all questions for determination before its courts. Squeezing out of the record in this case all that can be squeezed, the most that the five pages of the Court's opinion dealing with this threshold question can be said to demonstrate is that there is doubt whether or not the claim under the United States Constitution was properly presented to the California Supreme Court, according to its requirements.

Before this Court can find that a State - and the judgment of the Supreme Court of California expresses "the power of the State as a whole," Rippey v. Texas, 193 U.S. 504, 509 ; Skiriotes v. Florida, 313 U.S. 69, 79 - has violated the Constitution, it must be clear from the record that the state court has in fact passed on a federal question. As a safeguard against intrusion upon state power, it has been our practice when a fair doubt is raised whether a state court has in fact adjudicated a properly presented federal claim not to assume or presume that it has done so. The Court has not based its power to review on guess-work. It has remanded the case to the state court to enable it to make clear by appropriate certification that it has in fact rested its decision on rejection of a federal claim and has not reached its decision on an adequate state ground. Strict adherence to the jurisdictional requirement was insisted upon in Whitney v. California, the well-known civil liberties case, by a Court that included Justices Holmes and Brandeis, as mindful as any in protecting the liberties guaranteed by [353 U.S. 252, 276]   the Due Process Clause. Whitney v. California, 269 U.S. 530, 538 ; 274 U.S. 357 . See also Honeyman v. Hanan, 300 U.S. 14 ; cf. Minnesota v. National Tea Co., 309 U.S. 551 .

The procedure of making sure, through appropriate certification by a state court, that the federal question was in fact adjudicated, is a safeguard against infringement of powers that belong to the States and at the same time duly protects this Court's jurisdiction to review denial of a federal claim by a state court, if in fact it becomes clear that there was such a denial. This may involve some delay in the final determination of a federal question. The price of such delay is small enough cost in the proper functioning of our federal system in one of its important aspects. This Court has a special responsibility to be particularly mindful of the respective boundaries between state and federal authority.

I would remand the case to the Supreme Court of California for its certification whether or not it did in fact pass on a claim properly before it under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

MR. JUSTICE HARLAN, whom MR. JUSTICE CLARK joins, dissenting.

I share the jurisdictional views of my brother FRANKFURTER. Even so, since the Court decides the case on the merits, I feel it appropriate to deal with it on that basis, since the case is important and my views about it differ widely from those of the Court. I feel impelled to do so, more particularly, for two reasons: (1) The record, in my opinion, reveals something quite different from that which the Court draws from it; (2) this case involves an area of federal-state relations - the right of States to establish and administer standards for admission to their bars - into which this Court should be especially reluctant and slow to enter. Granting that this area of state action [353 U.S. 252, 277]   is not exempt from federal constitutional limitations, see Schware v. Board of Examiners, ante, p. 232, decided today, I think that in doing what it does here the Court steps outside its proper role as the final arbiter of such limitations, and acts instead as if it were a super state court of appeals.

The following is what I believe to be an accurate statement of the issue to be decided. California makes it one of its requirements concerning admission to its Bar that no one be certified to the Supreme Court who advocates the overthrow of the Government of the United States or of California by force or violence. It also requires that an applicant be of good moral character. The applicant has the burden of proof in showing that these requirements have been met. Petitioner, under examination by the designated state agency, made unequivocal disavowal of advocacy of the overthrow of the Government by force or violence. With a view to testing the reliability of this disavowal, and the moral character of petitioner, the Bar Examiners questioned him about organizations to which he belonged, especially current or past membership in the Communist Party. Petitioner persisted in refusing to answer these questions despite the entirely reasoned and repeated efforts of members of the Committee to secure answers. His refusals were not based on a claim that the questions were irrelevant to an examination of his fitness under California law. The refusals were based solely on the ground that constitutionally the Committee was limited to asking him whether he advocated the overthrow of the Government by force and violence, and having asked that question, it could ask him no related question.

On the basis of the foregoing circumstances, the Supreme Court of California refused to overrule the finding of the Bar Committee that he had not qualified for admission to the Bar. [353 U.S. 252, 278]  

The question for this Court is whether in so refusing petitioner admission to the Bar, California through its Supreme Court deprived petitioner of liberty and property without due process.

At the outset there should be laid aside certain things which are not involved in this case. The Court does not find wanting in any respect California's requirements for admission to the Bar - that an applicant (a) must be "a person of good moral character," 1 and (b) must not be an advocate of the overthrow of the Federal or State Government "by force, violence, or other unconstitutional means." 2 Nor does the Court question the state rule of practice placing the burden of proof on the applicant in both respects. 3 The Court does not hold that the First or Fourteenth Amendment entitled Konigsberg to refuse to answer any of the questions put to him by the Bar Committee, 4 or that any of such questions were irrelevant or improper. The fairness of the four hearings [353 U.S. 252, 279]   accorded Konigsberg is not attacked in any respect. 5 The Court's decision rests wholly on the alleged insufficiency of the record to support the Committee's conclusion that Konigsberg had failed to meet the burden of establishing that he was a person of good moral character and not an advocate of violent overthrow of the Government. The Court says:

This makes the record important. Before turning to it, however, it will be well to revert to the true character of the issue before us. The Court decides the case as if the issue were whether the record contains evidence demonstrating as a factual matter that Konigsberg had a bad moral character. I do not think that is the issue. The question before us, it seems to me, is whether it violates the Fourteenth Amendment for a state bar committee [353 U.S. 252, 280]   to decline to certify for admission to the bar an applicant who obstructs a proper investigation into his qualifications by deliberately, and without constitutional justification, refusing to answer questions relevant to his fitness under valid standards, and who is therefore deemed by the State, under its law, to have failed to carry his burden of proof to establish that he is qualified. 6  

I do not understand the process of reasoning by which the Court attempts to make a separate issue out of petitioner's refusal to answer questions, and then, in effect, reads it out of the case because California has not constituted such refusal an "independent" ground for denying admission. What the State has done, and what the Bar Committee repeatedly warned the petitioner it would do, 7 is to say that the petitioner's refusal to answer questions made it impossible to proceed to an affirmative certification that he was qualified - i. e., that his refusal placed him in a position where he must be deemed to have failed to sustain his burden of proof. Whether the State was justified in doing this under the Fourteenth Amendment is the sole issue before us, and that issue is not susceptible of the fragmentation to which the Court seeks to subject it. I am unable to follow the Court when it says, on the one hand, that on the issue of petitioner's qualifications "we must, of course, take into account the Committee's contention that Konigsberg's failure to respond to [353 U.S. 252, 281]   questions was evidence from which some inference of doubtful character and loyalty can be drawn," 8 and, on the other hand, that the Committee was not entitled to treat petitioner's refusal to answer as a failure on his part to meet the burden of proof as to his qualifications.

Of course California has not laid down an abstract rule that refusal to answer any question under any circumstances ipso facto calls for denial of admission to the Bar. But just because the State has no such abstract statutory rule does not mean that a Bar Committee cannot in a particular case conclude that failure to answer particular questions so blocks the inquiry that it is unable to certify the applicant as qualified. In other words, what California has done here is to say that the Committee was justified in concluding that refusal to answer these questions under these circumstances means that the applicant has failed to meet the requirement that he set forth his qualifications affirmatively. Thus I think the Court is quite mistaken in stating that "the Board itself has not seen fit, at any time, to base its exclusion of Konigsberg [353 U.S. 252, 282]   on his failure to answer." I turn now to the State's brief and the record, which show, it seems to me, that failure to answer was the reason for exclusion.


I had not supposed that it could be seriously contended that California's requirements for admission to the bar do not authorize the rejection of a candidate for constitutionally unprotected obstruction of a valid investigation into his qualifications under such requirements. Cf. Schware v. Board of Examiners, supra (concurring opinion). And it is unmistakable from the State's brief in this Court that California does claim the right, in the circumstances of this case, to reject the petitioner for his refusal to answer the questions that were relevant to his qualifications under the State's requirements for admission to the Bar. 9 The following appears on pp. 56-59 of that brief:

I now turn to the record which also shows in unmistakable terms that the Committee's primary concern related [353 U.S. 252, 284]   to the petitioner's persistent blocking of its efforts to test the veracity of his statement that he did not advocate forcible overthrow of government. 10  


The story is best told in the language of the record itself. I shall interpolate only to the extent necessary to put what is quoted in context.

The first hearing before the Subcommittee took place on September 25, 1953. At that time Konigsberg appeared without counsel. After some preliminary inquiries as to Konigsberg's history, and questioning as to his connections with allegedly "subversive" organizations, the following ensued:

At this point Konigsberg stated that his refusals to answer rested on rights of "free opinion, free speech," and that the legal profession should be the champion of "the right to diverse political opinion." He was then asked whether he had "ever knowingly participated in an organization which [he] then believed was sympathetic to the communistic cause," to which he replied that "I can't say I knowingly did that, because I don't think it would have made a great deal of difference to me if I had known one way or the other" if the organization's objectives were what he believed in, "say a better School Board or whatever the issue might have been." Then followed this:

Next there was discussion as to the attitude of the Association of American Universities with reference to teachers claiming the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination:

This answer was then elaborated by the petitioner at some length, after which the record continues as follows:

At this point Konigsberg testified that he did not recall knowing a Mrs. Bennett (formerly Mrs. Judson), the Subcommittee's next witness, the following occurring just before she testified:

Mrs. Bennett, an ex-Communist Party member, then testified, in the presence of Konigsberg, that Konigsberg had attended in 1941 meetings of the party unit of which she had been a member.

The next hearing was on December 9, 1953, which was attended by Konigsberg's counsel, a Mr. Mosk. This hearing was devoted in part to the cross-examination of Mrs. Bennett by Mr. Mosk, the net of which was that Mrs. Bennett admitted that she recognized Konigsberg when she first came to the earlier hearing only after not seeing anyone else in the room with whom she was [353 U.S. 252, 295]   familiar. After general colloquy as to some of the petitioner's writings, the questioning returned to Konigsberg's refusal to answer questions concerning his alleged membership in the Communist Party, this time with particular reference as to how petitioner reconciled his First Amendment claim with his willingness to answer ideological questions, but not questions as to whether he had ever been a member of the Communist Party. The record continues:

The third, and last, hearing before the Subcommittee occurred on January 27, 1954. At this time the letters from character witnesses were presented, and there ensued general colloquy as to the scope of a memorandum to be filed by Mr. Mosk. The record shows the following as to the Subcommittee's concern over Konigsberg's refusal to answer:

The Subcommittee having reported unfavorably, a hearing to review its recommendation was held before the full State Bar Committee on March 13, 1954, at which Konigsberg read a prepared statement, following which the record shows the following:

Finally, the Committee put to Konigsberg these questions:

On February 8, 1954, the State Bar Committee refused to certify Konigsberg for admission, and the California Supreme Court denied review on April 20, 1955.


So ends the story. Whatever might be the conclusions to be drawn were we sitting as state judges, I am unable to understand how on this record it can be said that California violated the Federal Constitution by refusing to admit petitioner to the bar.

The members of the Committee before whom the petitioner appeared were under a statutory duty to inquire into his qualifications for admission. Among the matters into which they were obligated to inquire were moral character and the applicant's advocacy of forcible overthrow of the Government. Petitioner stated readily enough that he did not advocate overthrow of government by force, violence, or other unconstitutional means. But once that basic question was answered he took the position that the Committee's authority was exhausted; that it had no power to ask him about the facts underlying his conclusory denial or to test his response by cross-examination. The Court holds that the State's conclusion - that an applicant who so obstructs the [353 U.S. 252, 310]   Committee has not met his burden of proof in establishing his qualifications of good moral character and non-advocacy of forcible overthrow - violates the Fourteenth Amendment.

I think this position is untenable. There is no conceivable reason why the Committee should not attempt by cross-examination to ascertain whether the facts squared with petitioner's bare assertion that he was qualified for admission. It can scarcely be contended that the questions were irrelevant to the matter under inquiry, namely, whether petitioner advocated forcible overthrow of the Government. At least it seems apparent to me that Communist Party membership is relevant to the question of forcible overthrow. In fact petitioner himself admitted that the questions were relevant, relying entirely on his First Amendment privilege. 11 Yet the Court assumes, for the purposes of this case, that the questions did not invade an area privileged under the First Amendment. In other words, we have here a refusal to answer relevant and unprivileged questions.

We are not dealing with a case where the State excludes an applicant from the bar because of bare membership, past or present, in the Communist Party. The Schware case attests that that is a wholly different question. Nor are we dealing with a case where an applicant is denied admission because of his political views. We have here a case where a state bar committee was prevented by an applicant from discharging its statutory responsibilities in further investigating the applicant's qualifications. The petitioner's refusal to answer questions in order to dispel doubts conscientiously entertained by the Committee as to his qualifications under a valid [353 U.S. 252, 311]   statutory test can, it seems to me, derive no support from the Fourteenth Amendment.

The principle here involved is so self-evident that I should have thought it would be accepted without discussion. Can it really be said that a bar-admissions committee could not reject an applicant because he refused to reveal his past addresses, or the names of his former employers, or his criminal record? An applicant might state with the utmost sincerity that he believed that such information was none of the committee's business; yet it must be clear that his application could be rejected. And in such a case the committee would not have to point to "evidence" establishing either that the applicant had bad moral character or that he was asserting the constitutional privilege in bad faith. For the applicant is the moving party, and his failure to go forward is itself sufficient to support denial of admission.

For me it would at least be more understandable if the Court were to hold that the Committee's questions called for matter privileged under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. But the Court carefully avoids doing so. It seems to hold that the question of privilege is irrelevant as long as the applicant is "in good faith" and as long as there is other material in the record which the Court interprets as affirmatively attesting to his good moral character. I cannot agree. It is not only that we, on the basis of a bare printed record and with no opportunity to hear and observe the applicant, are in no such position as the State Bar Committee was to determine whether in fact the applicant was sincere and has a good moral character. Even were we not so disadvantaged, to make such a determination is not our function in reviewing state judgments under the Constitution. Moreover, resolution of this factual question is wholly irrelevant to the case before us, since it seems to me altogether beyond question that a [353 U.S. 252, 312]   State may refuse admission to its Bar to an applicant, no matter how sincere, who refuses to answer questions which are reasonably relevant to his qualifications and which do not invade a constitutionally privileged area. The opinion of the Court does not really question this; it solves the problem by denying that it exists. But what the Court has really done, I think, is simply to impose on California its own notions of public policy and judgment. For me, today's decision represents an unacceptable intrusion into a matter of state concern.

For these reasons I dissent.

[ Footnote 1 ] Section 6060, Cal. Bus. and Prof. Code (1937). The Court does suggest that this standard is "unusually ambiguous" and that it "can be defined in an almost unlimited number of ways for any definition will necessarily reflect the attitudes, experiences, and prejudices of the definer." I respectfully suggest that maintenance of high professional standards requires that a State be allowed to give that term its broadest scope.

[ Footnote 2 ] Id., 6064.1.

[ Footnote 3 ] Spears v. State Bar, 211 Cal. 183, 294 P. 697; In re Wells, 174 Cal. 467, 163 P. 657. All but 2 of the 48 States have this practice requirement. See Farley, Admission of Attorneys from Other Jurisdictions, in Survey of the Legal Profession, Bar Examinations and Requirements for Admission to the Bar, 151, 159.

[ Footnote 4 ] The Court does say: "Prior decisions by this Court indicate that his [Konigsberg's] claim that the questions were improper was not frivolous and we find nothing in the record which indicates that his position was not taken in good faith." The record at least gives one pause as to the correctness of the latter conclusion. See pp. 292, 298-299, infra.

[ Footnote 5 ] The record contains the following exchange between Mr. O'Donnell, a member of the full State Bar Committee, and Mr. Mosk, the petitioner's counsel: "Mr. O'Donnell: There was some suggestion that the Subcommittee was not fair at the previous hearings. Mr. Mosk: May I interrupt immediately. There was no inference in any comments made by Mr. Konigsberg or myself. They were solely directed to the decision of the Subcommittee and our disagreement with the ultimate results. The Committee was absolutely fair and treated Mr. Konigsberg and myself with the utmost degree of fairness and impartiality. We have no complaints about the Subcommittee."

[ Footnote 6 ] Perhaps the most precise possible formulation of the question before us is whether a State may adopt a rule of administration to the effect that, in circumstances such as are disclosed here, an applicant who refuses to supply information relevant to his fitness may be deemed to have failed to sustain the burden of establishing his qualifications. I have no doubt that such a rule is constitutional. Cf. Hammond Packing Co. v. Arkansas, 212 U.S. 322, 349 -351; Fed. Rules Civ. Proc., 37 (b).

[ Footnote 7 ] See the italicized portions of pp. 286, 287, 288, 289, 290, 295, 299, 300, 301, 303, 306, 307, 308, 309, infra.

[ Footnote 8 ] Even on this basis I consider today's action of the Court unjustified upon this record. Whether considered as the adoption and application of a reasonable rule of administration, or as the drawing of an adverse inference of fact, the Committee's action in this case was proper. As the Hammond case shows, a State may treat a refusal to supply relevant information as establishing facts against the refusing party even though he does not have the burden of proof. A fortiori, a State need not give affirmative relief to one who refuses to supply evidence needed to support his own claim. Cf. Moore's Federal Rules and Official Forms (1956) 163-165, taking the position that judgment should be entered against a party to civil litigation who refuses to answer relevant questions, even where the refusal is justified by a valid privilege. In this case the Court takes the position, apparently, that refusal to supply relevant information cannot justify state action in a civil proceeding even where the refusal is unprivileged, and where the refusing party is a claimant upon whom rests the burden of proof.

[ Footnote 9 ] There is no question here of drawing an unfavorable inference from a claim of the Fifth Amendment privilege. Petitioner repeatedly disclaimed any assertion of that privilege.

[ Footnote 10 ] In quoting from the record I have italicized some parts to give emphasis to this point.

[ Footnote 11 ] Cf. Garner v. Board of Public Works, 341 U.S. 716, 720 ; and see pp. 299-300, 301, supra. [353 U.S. 252, 313]  

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