Konigsberg v. State Bar of Cal.

366 U.S. 36, 81 S. Ct. 997 (1961)



General regulatory statutes, not intended to control the content of speech but incidentally limiting its unfettered exercise, have not been regarded as the type of law the U.S. Const. amend I or amend. XIV forbade Congress or the states to pass, when they have been found justified by subordinating valid governmental interests, a prerequisite to constitutionality which has necessarily involved a weighing of the governmental interest involved. 


Under California law, the State Supreme Court may admit to the practice of law any applicant whose qualifications have been certified to it by the California Committee of Bar Examiners. In hearings by that Committee on his application for admission to the Bar, petitioner Konigsberg refused to answer any questions pertaining to his membership in the Communist Party, not on the ground of possible self-incrimination, but on the ground that such inquiries were beyond the purview of the Committee's authority and infringed rights of free thought, association and expression assured him under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.  The Committee declined to certify him as qualified for admission to the Bar on the ground that his refusals to answer had obstructed a full investigation into his qualifications. According to the Committee, the question was relevant to show good moral character; and that because Konigsberg refused to answer, the Committee had a valid reason to deny him a license to practice law. The State Supreme Court upheld the Committee’s decision to deny Konigsberg’s admission to the practice of law. 


In his application for admission to the Bar, were the questions pertaining to Konigsberg’s membership in the Communist Party violative of the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution?




The Court held that the question was a valid and proper question to show the fitness of an attorney to practice law. Furthermore, the Court determined that neither the First nor the Fourteenth Amendment prevented the California Committee of Bar Examiners from asking the question, as there were no free speech issues involved; thus, the Court upheld the denial of the license until petitioner answered the question on his application to practice law.

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