Bernal v. Fainter

2011-06-29 10:28:05

The Case: U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the civil rights of resident aliens
Date: Decided on May 30, 1984
Significance: Striking down a state law prohibiting aliens from working as notary publics, the Bernal decision asserted that laws discriminating against resident aliens must be assessed according to the demanding standard of strict scrutiny, thereby requiring a compelling governmental interest in order to be upheld as constitutional.
In a few earlier cases, including Graham v. Richardson (1971), the Supreme Court had applied strict scrutiny when examining classifications disadvantageous to aliens legally residing in the country. In Foley v. Connelie (1978), however, when approving a statute that barred aliens from working as state police officers, the majority of the justices endorsed a much less demanding standard of review.
In the case of Bernal v. Fainter (1984), the Court voted 8-1 that a Texas statute requiring notary publics to be U.S. citizens violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Writing for the majority, Justice Thurgood Marshall asserted that discrimination based on alienage would continue to trigger strict scrutiny. In an attempt to harmonize Foley and Bernal, Marshall claimed that the former had been based on the “political function” exception, which referred to government-sponsored positions that delegate a high degree of responsibility and discretion to enforce the processes of democratic self-government. In contrast to police officers and teachers, he found that notary publics enforced laws without exercising much discretion or authority.
Thomas Tandy Lewis
Further Reading
  • Bosniak, Linda. The Citizen and the Alien: Dilemmas of Contemporary Membership. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2006.
  • Hull, Elizabeth. Without Justice for All: The Constitutional Rights of Aliens. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1985.
See also: Citizenship; Supreme Court, U.S.