Bradwell v. The State

Following is the case brief for Bradwell v. The State, 83 U.S. 130 (1872)

Case Summary of Bradwell v. The State:

  • Myra Bradwell applied for a law license in the State of Illinois.
  • Her application was denied up through the Supreme Court of Illinois.
  • On appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Court affirmed the denial of her license.  The Court reasoned that the right to a law license is not one of the privileges or immunities protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.

Bradwell v. The State Case Brief

Statement of the Facts:

Mrs. Myra Bradwell wanted to practice law.  The State of Illinois denied her that right.  She then sued, claiming that she has a right to practice law in Illinois based on her rights as a United States citizen.

Procedural History:

  • The Illinois Supreme Court denied her suit.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court took the case on writ of error from the Illinois Supreme Court.

Issue and Holding:

Does a State law prohibiting woman from getting a law license violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s Privileges or Immunities Clause?  No.

Judgment:

The decision of the Illinois Supreme Court is affirmed.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

The power of a State to grant or deny law licenses is unaffected by the Fourteenth Amendment’s Privileges or Immunities Clause.

Reasoning:

The Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution provides that citizens of each state shall be entitled to all the privileges or immunities of citizens in the several states.  That provision does not provide any relief for Mrs. Bradwell in the present case.  The right to practice laws is not one of the privileges or immunities contemplated by the Fourteenth Amendment.  The right to control the practice of law in any one state is that state’s business, and the federal government has no say in that process.

Concurring and Dissenting Opinions:

Concurring Opinion (Bradley): 

“The paramount destiny and mission of woman are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother.  This is the law of the Creator.”  Only men, the “sterner sex,” have the capacity to practice law.

Chief Justice Chase, without a written opinion, dissented from the judgment of the Court and from all of the supporting opinions.

Significance:

Bradwell v. The State is significant because it shows just how the law and a society can evolve.  In 1872, when Bradwell was decided, it was deemed appropriate for a justice of the Supreme Court to state – in writing – that the “Creator” made women the weaker sex and incapable of practicing law.  A little over one hundred years later Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman to become a Supreme Court Justice.

Student Resources:

Read the Full Court Opinion