ACLU of Louisiana Hails Federal Court Decision Overturning Ban on Immigrants Becoming Lawyers

Affiliate: ACLU of Louisiana
September 19, 2003 12:00 am

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NEW ORLEANS- The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana today hailed a State Supreme Court ruling striking down a law that prohibited certain immigrants from practicing law in the state. On equal protection grounds, the court’s decision agreed with the ACLU’s argument that the rule arbitrarily discriminates against non-immigrant aliens who lawfully reside in the United States.

“The ACLU of Louisiana welcomes the well-reasoned and sound decision by the court to prohibit discrimination against a class of persons, including lawfully admitted aliens, based on a well-established precedent handed down by the U. S. Supreme Court,” said Joe Cook, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana.

In his ruling, Federal District Court Judge Eldon Fallon said, “One need not dig deeply to discover the important contributions immigrants have made to our nation. Indeed,” he pointed out, “Louisiana, in no small part, owes its unique legal history to the influence and contribution of foreign legal systems and attorneys. Louisiana was claimed in the name of King Louis XIV of France in 1682 and remained under French rule until the territory was ceded to Spain in the Treaty of Fontainebleau in 1762.”

The court agreed with the ACLU’s argument that an applicant’s citizenship status is not relevant to that applicant’s fitness to practice law. The United States Supreme Court has already held In re Griffiths that”[r]esident aliens, like citizens, pay taxes, support the economy, serve in the Armed Forces, and contribute in myriad ways to our society. It is appropriate that a State bear a heavy burden when it deprives them of employment opportunities.”

The lawsuit, filed in May of this year, challenged a decision made on June 13, 2002 to allow only permanent resident aliens to sit for the Louisiana Bar Examination. This change reversed an interpretation in effect for nearly 20 years that permitted any alien, in temporary or permanent status and lawfully residing in the United States, to sit for the Louisiana Bar Exam. Such persons were only subject to meeting the requirements of age, character and education.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of citizens of the United Kingdom currently living legally in the United States, who at the time the lawsuit was filed did not have the right to reside here on a permanent basis. One, Caroline Wallace, has received a diploma in legal practice with distinction from the College of Law in London, and the other, Emily Maw, graduated in May 2003 from Tulane Law School.

The ACLU litigated the case with the help of cooperating attorneys Vincent J. Booth of New Orleans and S. William Livingston and Eric J. Brignac of Covington & Burling in Washington, DC.

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