JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.
We must decide in this case what authority the United States District Court for the District of Columbia and the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit have to review decisions of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals in bar admission matters. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, reversing the United States District Court, held that the District Court had jurisdiction to review the District of Columbia Court of Appeals' denials of the respondents' requests for waivers of a bar admission rule that requires applicants to have graduated from an approved law school. We vacate the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and remand the case for proceedings consistent with this opinion.
We have discussed in detail in earlier opinions the changes in the structure of the District of Columbia court system effected by the District of Columbia Court Reform and Criminal Procedure Act of 1970. Pub. L. 91-358, 84 Stat. 473. See Key v. Doyle, 434 U.S. 59 (1977); Palmore v. United States, 411 U.S. 389 (1973). For purposes of this case,
Pursuant to its new rulemaking authority, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals adopted, as part of its general rules, Rule 461 (1973), which governs admission to the bar. Rule 461(b)(3) states:
Neither of the respondents graduated from an approved law school. Their efforts to avoid the operation of Rule 461(b)(3) form the foundation of this case.
Respondent Feldman did not attend law school. Instead, he pursued an alternative path to a legal career provided by the State of Virginia involving a highly structured program of study in the office of a practicing attorney. See Va. Code § 54-62 (1982). In addition to his work and study at a law firm in Charlottesville, Va., Feldman formally audited classes at the University of Virginia School of Law. For the final six months of his alternative course of study, Feldman served as a law clerk to a United States District Judge.
Having passed the Virginia bar examination, Feldman was admitted to that State's Bar in April 1976. In March of that year he had begun working as a staff attorney for the Baltimore, Md., Legal Aid Bureau. He continued in that job until January 1977. Like the District of Columbia, Maryland has a rule limiting access to the bar examination to graduates of ABA-approved law schools, but the Maryland Board of Law Examiners waived the rule for Feldman. Feldman passed the Maryland examination and later was admitted to that State's Bar.
In November 1976, Feldman applied to the Committee on Admissions of the District of Columbia Bar for admission to the District Bar under a rule which, prior to its recent amendment, allowed a member of a bar in another jurisdiction to seek membership in the District Bar without examination.
In June 1977, Feldman submitted to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals a petition for admission to the bar without examination. App. 1a. Alternatively, Feldman requested that he be allowed to sit for the bar examination. Id., at 5a. In his petition, Feldman described his legal training, work experience, and other qualifications. He suggested that his professional training and education were "equal to that received by those who have attended an A. B. A. approved law school." Id., at 4a. In view of his training, experience, and success in passing the bar examinations in other jurisdictions, Feldman stated that "the objectives of the District of Columbia's procedures and requirements for admission to the Bar will not be frustrated by granting this petition." Ibid.
The District of Columbia Court of Appeals did not act on Feldman's petition for several months. In March 1978, Feldman's counsel wrote to the Chief Judge of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals to urge favorable action on Feldman's petition. The letter stated that Feldman had "abundantly demonstrated his fitness to practice law" and suggested that "it would be a gross injustice to exclude him from the Bar without even considering his individual qualifications." Id., at 6a. The letter went on to state that "[i]n the unique circumstances of his case, barring Mr. Feldman from the practice of law merely because he has not graduated from an accredited law school would raise important questions
Feldman's counsel also pointed out that the court had granted waivers of the rule in the past and suggested that a "failure to consider Mr. Feldman's application would be highly arbitrary and would raise serious questions about the fairness and even-handedness of the Court's policies regarding bar admissions." Id., at 10a. He went on to state that "serious questions under the United States Constitution are raised by any bar admissions procedure which automatically rejects applicants who have not graduated from an A. B. A. accredited law school, without any opportunity to show that their experience and education provide equivalent evidence of their fitness to practice law." Id., at 10a-11a. Feldman's counsel cited case authority in support of his position. Finally, Feldman's counsel stated that "[t]he federal antitrust laws provide an alternative basis for questioning the legality of a bar admissions procedure which presumes applicants to be unqualified if they lack a law degree and denies them any opportunity to show that their individual training and experience still qualify them to practice law." Id., at 12a. Feldman's counsel also cited cases in support of this position.
On March 30, 1978, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals issued a per curiam order denying Feldman's petition. Id., at 18a. The order stated simply that "[o]n consideration of the petition of Marc Feldman to waive the provisions of Rule 46 of the General Rules of this Court, it is ORDERED that applicant's petition is denied." Ibid.
In May 1978, Feldman filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia challenging the District of Columbia Court of Appeals' refusal to waive Rule 461(b)(3) on his behalf. Id., at 35a.
Respondent Hickey began the study of law in March 1975 at the Potomac School of Law, Washington, D. C., after concluding a distinguished 20-year career as a pilot in the United States Navy. At the time he entered Potomac, Hickey was aware that it had not been accredited by the ABA, but he thought that he could transfer at some later date to an ABA-approved school. Shortly after Hickey started his studies, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals granted waivers of Rule 461(b)(3) to graduates of the International School of Law, a new and unapproved school in the area. The court granted waivers to members of the 1975, 1976, and 1977 graduating classes of International. This practice encouraged Hickey to believe that he also would be able to obtain a waiver of the rule. In November 1977, however, the Court of Appeals denied Potomac's petition for a temporary waiver of the rule and announced that it would no longer grant waivers to future International graduates.
Hickey also suggested that it would be burdensome for him to attempt to comply with Rule 461(b)(4), which permits graduates of unapproved law schools to sit for the bar examination after completing 24 credit hours at an approved law school.
Finally, Hickey stated that his 20 years of military service had demonstrated "far beyond that of the average bar exam
On June 12, 1978, the court issued a per curiam order denying Hickey's petition for a waiver. Id., at 49a. The order stated that the court had considered the petition and Hickey's contention that the ABA had instructed approved law schools in the District of Columbia to deny admission to nondegree candidates for completion of the 24-credit-hour requirement. The court stated: "The American Bar Association Standards and Rules of Procedure, as amended — 1977, permit enrollment of persons in petitioner's category under Standard 506(ii) if they can satisfy the requirement for admission set forth in Standard 502." Ibid.
In July 1978, Hickey filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia challenging the District of Columbia Court of Appeals' denial of his waiver petition. Id., at 60a.
The District Court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss Hickey's complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Id., at 142a. In this regard, the court stated that "[i]t is well settled that the admission and exclusion of attorneys by the members of the highest court of a state is the exercise of a judicial function which may be reviewed only by the United States Supreme Court." Id., at 143a. In the District Court's view, Hickey was seeking review of the defendants' denial of his petition for admission to the bar examination. The court suggested that "[t]he constitutional challenge to that denial is wholly and directly intertwined with plaintiff's efforts to secure an exemption from Rule 46, and the allegations of the complaint and the relief requested concern essentially the application of the Rule to his own particular case." Ibid. In this light the court concluded that "there is no basis for the extraordinary attempt to invoke the jurisdiction of this Court on a matter entrusted by the Congress to the D. C. Court of Appeals." Ibid.
Both Hickey and Feldman appealed the dismissals of their complaints to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Although the District of Columbia Circuit acknowledged that "review of a final judgment of the highest judicial tribunal of a state is vested solely in the Supreme Court of the United States," id., at 134, 661 F. 2d, at 1310 (footnote omitted), and that the United States District Court therefore is without authority to review determinations by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals in judicial proceedings, the court found that the District Court has jurisdiction over these cases because the proceedings in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals "were not judicial . . . ." Ibid. The court based this conclusion on a finding that neither Feldman nor Hickey asserted in their waiver petitions "any sort of right to be admitted to the District of Columbia bar, or even to take the examination therefor." Id., at 139, 661 F. 2d, at 1315
The District of Columbia Circuit found Feldman's case more difficult, id., at 140, 661 F. 2d, at 1316, but still concluded that the proceedings on his waiver petition were not judicial in nature because the "claim-of-right element" was lacking. Ibid. Feldman's petition did not "claim that a refusal of his waiver request would deny him any right at all." Ibid. Instead, the petition "invoked the administrative discretion of [the court], simply asking that it temper its rule in his favor, for personal and not legal reasons." Ibid. The District of Columbia Circuit rejected the argument that the letter from Feldman's counsel, which raised certain legal arguments, changed the nature of the proceedings. Id., at 140-141, 661 F. 2d, at 1316-1317. The District of Columbia Circuit stated: "We are unable to discern in the letter any desire that the court consider Feldman's legal criticisms of the rule on their merits, or hand down a decision dealing with them. The letter made unmistakably clear that these criticisms would be litigated, if at all, in the District Court . . . ." Ibid. (footnotes omitted).
The District of Columbia Circuit properly acknowledged that the United States District Court is without authority to review final determinations of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals in judicial proceedings. Review of such determinations can be obtained only in this Court. See 28 U. S. C. § 1257. See also Atlantic Coast Line R. Co. v. Locomotive Engineers, 398 U.S. 281, 296 (1970); Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 415, 416 (1923). A crucial question in this case, therefore, is whether the proceedings before the District of Columbia Court of Appeals were judicial in nature.
This Court has considered the distinction between judicial and administrative or ministerial proceedings on several occasions. In Prentis v. Atlantic Coast Line Co., 211 U.S. 210 (1908), railroads challenged in federal court the constitutionality of rail passenger rates set by the State Corporation Commission. The question presented by the case was whether the federal court was free to enjoin implementation of the rate order. Id., at 223. In considering this question, we assumed that the State Corporation Commission was, at
We went on to suggest that the nature of a proceeding "depends not upon the character of the body but upon the character of the proceedings." Ibid. See generally Roudebush v. Hartke, 405 U.S. 15, 20-22 (1972); Lathrop v. Donohue, 367 U.S. 820, 827 (1961); Nashville, C. & St. L. R. Co. v. Wallace, 288 U.S. 249, 259 (1933); Public Service Co. v. Corboy, 250 U.S. 153, 161-162 (1919).
In In re Summers, 325 U.S. 561 (1945), we considered the petitioner's challenge to the constitutionality of a State Supreme Court's refusal to admit him to the practice of law. At the outset, we noted that the record was not in the "customary form" because the state court had not treated the proceeding as "judicial." Id., at 563. In fact, the state court contested our certiorari jurisdiction on the ground that the state-court proceedings had not been judicial in nature and that no case or controversy therefore existed in this Court under Art. III of the Federal Constitution. Id., at 564-565. In considering this contention, we conceded that the state-court proceedings might not have been judicial under state law and that the denial of the petitioner's application for admission to the bar was treated "as a ministerial act which is performed by virtue of the judicial power, such as the appointment
In conducting this appraisal, we first stated:
Applying this standard, we noted that the state court had concluded that the report of the Committee on Character and Fitness, which refused to issue a favorable certificate, should be sustained. The state court, therefore, considered the petitioner's petition "on its merits." 325 U. S., at 567. Although "no entry was placed by the Clerk in the file, on a docket, or in a judgment roll," ibid., we found that the state court had taken "cognizance of the petition and passed an order which [was] validated by the signature of the presiding officer." Ibid. (footnote omitted). We stated:
These precedents clearly establish that the proceedings in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals surrounding Feldman's and Hickey's petitions for waiver were judicial in nature. The proceedings were not legislative, ministerial, or administrative. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals did not "loo[k] to the future and chang[e] existing conditions by making a new rule to be applied thereafter to all or some part of those subject to its power." Prentis v. Atlantic Coast Line Co., 211 U. S., at 226. Nor did it engage in rulemaking or specify "the requirements of eligibility or the course of study for applicants for admission to the bar . . . ." In re Summers, supra, at 566. Nor did the District of Columbia Court of Appeals simply engage in ministerial action. Instead, the proceedings before the District of Columbia Court of Appeals involved a "judicial inquiry" in which the court was called upon to investigate, declare, and enforce "liabilities as they [stood] on present or past facts and under laws supposed already to exist." Prentis v. Atlantic Coast Line Co., supra, at 226.
In his petition to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, discussed in detail, supra, at 466-468, Feldman contended that he possessed "the requisite fitness and good moral character necessary to practice law in this jurisdiction." App. 1a. In support of his position, he described in detail his legal
In essence, Feldman argued on policy grounds that the rule should not be applied to him because he had fulfilled the spirit, if not the letter, of Rule 461(b)(3). Alternatively, he argued in his letter that the rule was invalid. In short, he was seeking "a declaration on rights as they [stood] . . . not on rights which [might] arise in the future . . . ." In re Summers, 325 U. S., at 567. This required the District of Columbia Court of Appeals to determine in light of existing law and in light of Feldman's qualifications and arguments whether Feldman's petition should be granted. The court also had before it legal arguments against the validity of the rule. When it issued a per curiam order denying Feldman's petition, it determined as a legal matter that Feldman was
The same conclusion obtains with respect to the proceedings on Hickey's petition for waiver. In his petition, see supra, at 471-472, Hickey asserted that he was substantively qualified to sit for the bar examination. In support of his position, he submitted affidavits supporting his competence and described in detail his military service and legal education. He also argued that he had relied on the court's former policy of granting waivers to graduates of unaccredited law schools in developing a reasonable expectation that he would be granted a waiver as well. Moreover, he suggested that ABA policy made it impossible for him to pursue the alternative route under the rules to being permitted to sit for the bar examination. Finally, he argued, based on equitable considerations such as his age, military service, and status as a father and husband, that he should be granted a waiver. He stated that "[f]ar more than most," he had "earned the right to sit for the bar examination." App. 24a.
As in Feldman's case, Hickey's petition called upon the District of Columbia Court of Appeals to consider policy and equitable arguments in deciding whether to waive the rule. The fact that Hickey did not cite case authority in support of his arguments or make any explicitly legal contentions does not render the proceedings nonjudicial. The court still was required to determine if Hickey's qualifications and background fulfilled the basic purposes of the rule sufficiently to justify a waiver and, if not, whether equitable considerations compelled a waiver. These are essentially judicial inquiries. They resulted in a per curiam order that denied Hickey's petition and explicitly rejected his contention that ABA policy prevented him from acquiring 24 credit hours from an accredited law school.
A determination that the proceedings on Feldman's and Hickey's petitions were judicial does not finally dispose of this case. As we have noted, supra, at 476, a United States District Court has no authority to review final judgments of a state court in judicial proceedings. Review of such judgments may be had only in this Court. Therefore, to the extent that Hickey and Feldman sought review in the District Court of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals' denial of their petitions for waiver, the District Court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over their complaints. Hickey and Feldman should have sought review of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals' judgments in this Court.
The difference between seeking review in a federal district court of a state court's final judgment in a bar admission matter
In Doe v. Pringle, 550 F.2d 596 (CA10 1976), the plaintiff challenged in United States District Court the constitutionality of a state-court decision denying his application for admission to the bar. In concluding that the District Court lacked
The Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in Doe v. Pringle, supra, properly emphasized the distinction between general challenges to state bar admission rules and claims that a state court has unlawfully denied a particular applicant admission. We have recognized that state supreme courts may act in a nonjudicial capacity in promulgating rules regulating the bar. See, e. g., Supreme Court of Virginia v. Consumers Union, 446 U.S. 719, 731 (1980); Lathrop v.
Applying this standard to the respondents' complaints, it is clear that their allegations that the District of Columbia Court of Appeals acted arbitrarily and capriciously in denying their petitions for waiver and that the court acted unreasonably and discriminatorily in denying their petitions in view of its former policy of granting waivers to graduates of unaccredited law schools, see n. 3, supra, required the District Court to review a final judicial decision of the highest court of a jurisdiction in a particular case. These allegations are inextricably intertwined with the District of Columbia
The remaining allegations in the complaints, however, involve a general attack on the constitutionality of Rule 461 (b)(3). See n. 3, supra. The respondents' claims that the rule is unconstitutional because it creates an irrebuttable presumption that only graduates of accredited law schools are fit to practice law, discriminates against those who have obtained equivalent legal training by other means, and impermissibly delegates the District of Columbia Court of Appeals' power to regulate the bar to the American Bar Association, do not require review of a judicial decision in a particular case. The District Court, therefore, has subject-matter jurisdiction over these elements of the respondents' complaints.
In deciding that the District Court has jurisdiction over those elements of the respondents' complaints that involve a general challenge to the constitutionality of Rule 461(b)(3), we expressly do not reach the question of whether the doctrine of res judicata forecloses litigation on these elements of
The judgment of the District of Columbia Circuit is vacated, and the case is remanded to the District Court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
JUSTICE STEVENS, dissenting.
There are many crafts in which the State performs a licensing function. That function is important, not only to those seeking access to a gainful occupation but to the members of the public served by the profession as well. State-created rules governing the grant or denial of licenses must comply with constitutional standards and must be administered in accordance with due process of law. Given these acknowledged constitutional limitations on action by the State, it should be beyond question that a federal district court has subject-matter jurisdiction over an individual's lawsuit raising federal constitutional challenges either to licensing rules themselves or to their application in his own case.
The Court holds that respondents may make a general constitutional attack on the rules governing the admission of lawyers to practice in the District of Columbia. I agree. But the Court also concludes that a United States district
First, neither Feldman nor Hickey requested the District of Columbia Court of Appeals to pass on the validity of Rule 461(b)(3) or to grant them admission to the bar or the bar examination as a matter of right. Rather, each of them asked the court to waive the requirements of the rule for a variety of reasons. I would not characterize the court's refusal to grant a requested waiver as an adjudication. Unlike the decision of the Supreme Court of Illinois reviewed in In re Summers, 325 U.S. 561 (1945), the order of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals did not determine a claim of right, nor did it even apply standard equitable principles to a prayer for relief. Rather, that court performed no more and no less than the administrative function of a licensing board. As the United States Court of Appeals wrote, Hickey asked the court "to make a policy decision equating his personal qualities with accredited legal education, not an adjudication requiring resort to legal principles," Feldman v. Gardner, 213 U. S. App. D. C. 119, 139, 661 F.2d 1295, 1315 (1981) (footnote omitted), and Feldman "invoked the administrative discretion of that body, simply asking that it temper its rule in his favor, for personal and not legal reasons," id., at 140, 661 F. 2d, at 1316. Rejection of those petitions was not "adjudicative" and was therefore not susceptible to certiorari review in this Court.
Second, even if the refusal to grant a waiver were an adjudication, the federal statute that confers jurisdiction upon
I therefore respectfully dissent.
The complaint also included an allegation that by limiting membership in the District of Columbia Bar to graduates of approved law schools, the defendants had entered into a combination in restraint of trade and had attempted to monopolize, and in fact had monopolized, the practice of law in the District of Columbia. Ibid.
In his prayer for relief, Feldman asked for a declaration that Rule 461, "either on its face or as applied to plaintiff," ibid., violates the Fifth Amendment; that the defendants' refusal to consider his individual qualifications and training violated his rights under the Fifth Amendment; and that the defendants' rejection of his application because he did not graduate from an approved law school violated the federal antitrust laws. Id., at 43a-44a. Feldman requested an order requiring the defendants to admit him to the bar without examination or to allow him to sit for the bar examination at the earliest possible date or to determine whether his training and qualifications had provided him with the same competence to practice law as graduates of approved law schools. Id., at 44a.
In an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, id., at 145, 661 F. 2d, at 1321, Judge Robb expressed the view that the District Court had no jurisdiction to review the orders of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. Ibid. He noted that the District of Columbia Court of Appeals has the status of a state supreme court and stated:
"The adverse decisions in the appellants' cases were reviewable in the Supreme Court of the United States. Although the appellants cast their petitions to the Court of Appeals in terms of requests for waivers, the petitions in essence were demands that the court declare the petitioners qualified to sit for the bar examination. Those demands were denied by en banc orders of the Court of Appeals. The denials were judicial acts and as such were reviewable on writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court. They were not reviewable in the District Court." Ibid.
"The record gives no indication that [the plaintiff] asserted the federal constitutional claims which are the basis of her § 1983 action — that the denial of her application for admission to the bar examination deprived her of a constitutionally protected liberty and property interest in pursuing the practice of law in Texas, constituted a violation of equal protection and infringed upon her constitutionally protected right to travel — in the Texas Supreme Court. Since 28 U. S. C. § 1257(3) authorizes the Supreme Court to review only judgments in state court cases in which a federal issue was raised and adjudicated, . . . it is apparent that [the plaintiff's] case could not have been reviewed on a writ of certiorari from the United States Supreme Court following the Texas Supreme Court's denial of her motion. Since [the plaintiff's] § 1983 complaint states claims for relief grounded in federal constitutional rights, claims which were not presented to the Texas Supreme Court, her § 1983 suit does not constitute an impermissible effort to seek review of a state court judgment in a lower federal court." Id., at 1051 (footnote omitted).
The Court of Appeals' reasoning in Dasher is flawed. As we noted in Atlantic Coast Line R. Co. v. Locomotive Engineers, 398 U.S. 281 (1970), "lower federal courts possess no power whatever to sit in direct review of state court decisions." Id., at 296. If the constitutional claims presented to a United States district court are inextricably intertwined with the state court's denial in a judicial proceeding of a particular plaintiff's application for admission to the state bar, then the district court is in essence being called upon to review the state-court decision. This the district court may not do.
Moreover, the fact that we may not have jurisdiction to review a final state-court judgment because of a petitioner's failure to raise his constitutional claims in state court does not mean that a United States district court should have jurisdiction over the claims. By failing to raise his claims in state court a plaintiff may forfeit his right to obtain review of the state-court decision in any federal court. This result is eminently defensible on policy grounds. We have noted the competence of state courts to adjudicate federal constitutional claims. See, e. g., Sumner v. Mata, 449 U.S. 539, 549 (1981); Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 105 (1980); Swain v. Pressley, 430 U.S. 372, 383 (1977). We also noted in Cardinale that one of the policies underlying the requirement that constitutional claims be raised in state court as a predicate to our certiorari jurisdiction is the desirability of giving the state court the first opportunity to consider a state statute or rule in light of federal constitutional arguments. A state court may give the statute a saving construction in response to those arguments. 394 U. S., at 439.
Finally, it is important to note in the context of this case the strength of the state interest in regulating the state bar. As we stated in Goldfarb v. Virginia State Bar, 421 U.S. 773 (1975), "[t]he interest of the States in regulating lawyers is especially great since lawyers are essential to the primary governmental function of administering justice, and have historically been `officers of the courts.' " Id., at 792. See also Middlesex County Ethics Committee v. Garden State Bar Assn., supra, at 434-435; Leis v. Flynt, 439 U.S. 438, 442 (1979). In MacKay v. Nesbett, 412 F.2d 846 (CA9 1969), the court stated:
"[O]rders of a state court relating to the admission, discipline, and disbarment of members of its bar may be reviewed only by the Supreme Court of the United States on certiorari to the state court, and not by means of an original action in a lower federal court. The rule serves substantial policy interests arising from the historic relationship between state judicial systems and the members of their respective bars, and between the state and federal judicial systems." Ibid.