Bradwell v. Illinois Case Brief

Summary of Bradwell v. Illinois
Citation: 83 U.S. 130 (1873)

Relevant Facts: Myra Bradwell applied for a license to practice law in the State of Illinois. She completed all appropriate forms and provided the required documentation as to both her character and training. However, Illinois law afforded the Supreme Court discretion in bar admissions, including restrictions on classes of persons not intended for membership. Here the State Supreme Court determined it had the authority to deny women a law license. Accordingly, her application was denied. At the time of her application, Bradwell was and had for many years been a resident of the City of Chicago. While she was born in Vermont and spent much of her life there, she was now a resident of Illinois. Bradwell brought suit against the State of Illinois, alleging that as a former citizen of Vermont now a citizen of the United States residing in Illinois, she was being denied one of the Privileges and Immunities of citizenship through refusal to grant a law license after proper application. The State Supreme Court refused to admit her, citing the strife that would result from practicing law and the attendant threats to femininity. This appeal followed.

Issue: May a State, consistent with the Privileges and Immunities clause, deny an otherwise proper application for a license to practice law merely because the applicant is a woman and state law restricts bar membership to men?

Holding: No, the Privileges and Immunities clause does not apply here as the Appellant was a citizen of the State enforcing the law complained of. States have the authority to regulate the practice of law, including denial of licenses to women on the basis of sex.

Reasoning: Justice Miller delivered the opinion of the Court, joined by Justices Clifford, Davis, Strong, and Hunt. The majority began by explaining the Privileges and Immunities clause does not apply here, as that provision only protects citizens of one state from denial of rights by another state. In this case, the Court explained that Bradwell was a citizen of Illinois. While she claimed to only reside there, citizens of the United States are citizens of the State in which they reside, unless they can demonstrate another domicile. Responding to the suggestions that certain protections, including the ability to pursue a particular trade, are privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States that individual states may not disregard, the Court disagreed. In addition to their earlier explanation of the proper understanding of the constitutional protections at issue, the majority explained that the right to practice law is not a protected privilege. Finally, the Court pointed out that the issues here had already been adequately addressed in The Slaughterhouse Cases and so no reason to revisit the issue. The right of state courts to regulate the granting of law licenses is not one of the state functions transferred to the federal government for protection, and in accordance with precedent the Appellant here did not state a valid claim.

Concurrence: Justice Bradley concurred in the judgment, joined by Justices Field and Swayne. He agreed that the Court should affirm the decision below, but based on a different rationale. As he explained, the law has always recognized fundamental differences between the sexes. In Bradley’s view, men had an obligation to protect women just as surely as women should be protected based on their timidity and delicacy. Furthermore, the protection of women required restricting their participation in certain occupations and in work outside the home generally. While Justice Bradley pointed out that the standard may be somewhat different with regard to an unmarried woman, he concluded that married women may clearly be prohibited from separate careers as they may be excluded from even separate legal existence apart from their husbands. While he noted the early movement toward greater equality between the sexes, Justice Bradley refused to restrict the role of the States in regulating the practice of law, including complete denial of that profession to women on the basis of their sex.

Dissent: Chief Justice Chase dissented, but did not offer an opinion.

Conclusion: States may, consistent with the Constitution, regulate the practice of law so as to exclude all women. The Privileges and Immunities clause does not apply to citizens complaining of laws in their own State.

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