Wednesday, March 18, 2015
In its opinion in In re Hong Yen Chang on Admission, the California Supreme Court granted posthumous admission to the bar and reversed its more than a century-old decision in In re Hong Yen Chang 84 Cal. 163 (1890). The case was brought by LawProf Gabriel "Jack" Chin and students at UC-Davis College of Law.
Although Chang had been naturalized and was a lawyer in New York, a combination of the notorious Chinese Exclusion Act, upheld by the United States Supreme Court in Chae Chan Ping v. United States (1889), which prohibited naturalization of Chinese persons and the California requirement that members of the bar be citizens, the 1890 California Supreme Court held that Chang was not a "bona fide" citizen and could thus not be a member of the bar. In discussing the decision, the 2015 California Supreme Court stated:
Understanding the significance of our two-page decision denying Chang admission to the bar requires a candid reckoning with a sordid chapter of our state and national history.
Yet the court's opinion is not only of historic note. In discussing the repudiation of the sordid chapter, the California Supreme Court wrote:
More than a century later, the legal and policy underpinnings of our 1890 decision have been discredited. In 1972, this court unanimously held it was “constitutionally indefensible” to forbid noncitizens to practice law, calling such a ban “the lingering vestige of a xenophobic attitude” that “should now be allowed to join those anachronistic classifications among the crumbled pedestals of history.” (Raffaelli v. Committee of Bar Examiners (1972) 7 Cal.3d 288, 291.) One year later, the high court reached the same conclusion. (In re Griffiths (1973) 413 U.S. 717.) In 2013, our Legislature passed a law making undocumented immigrants eligible for admission to the State Bar. (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 6064, subd. (b).) We thereafter granted admission to an undocumented immigrant who had been brought to the United States as a child, put himself through college and law school, passed the California bar exam, and met the requirement of good moral character. (In re Garcia (2014) 58 Cal.4th 440, 466.) We said “the fact that an undocumented immigrant is present in the United States without lawful authorization does not itself involve moral turpitude or demonstrate moral unfitness so as to justify exclusion from the State Bar, or prevent the individual from taking an oath promising faithfully to discharge the duty to support the Constitution and laws of the United States and California.” (Id. at p. 460.)
While California has allowed noncitizens to be attorneys as the court notes, the issue is pending in other states, including - - - perhaps paradoxically - - - New York.