Governor Signs “Lawyer Dream” Bill

Governor Brown has signed into law legislation (AB 1024  by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez) that removes all doubt that undocumented immigrant Dreamers who pass the Bar Exam and meet the same moral character requirements as all other applicants can be admitted to the practice of law in California.

The bill responds to the case of Sergio C. Garcia (In re Sergio C. Garcia on Admission – S202512), the issue of whose admission to the Bar was heard on September 4 by the California Supreme Court.  Specifically, the bill is intended to ensure that California has on the books the law identified in Title 8, Section 1621(d) of the federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, which says that states can provide benefits (defined under subdivision (c) to include professional licenses) to undocumented immigrants if the state has enacted a law “which affirmatively provides for such eligibility.” Many respected entities and individuals, including the State Bar and Attorney General, have argued that California already has such a law and/or that Title 8, Section 1621 doesn’t apply because the California Supreme Court is not an “agency” within the meaning of the statute. But the Supreme Court Justices clearly indicated at the September 4 hearing that they would feel more comfortable if there was a specific law on the books, and the Legislature has complied.

It is uncertain what impact this bill, if signed, would have on Mr. Garcia’s case, since the case has already been argued and the decision is expected before the bill takes effect on 1/1/2014.  It  would have been nice had AB 1024 been an urgency measure, but the measure was created (by stripping the previous contents of AB 1024 and inserting the current language) and approved by the Legislature in only a couple of days before the end of the current legislative year, and few could predict that strong bipartisan support the bill received.  The measure passed the Assembly on a vote of 62-4, with both Democrats and Republicans speaking in favor of the bill and even the opponents saying what a deserving, admirable candidate Mr. Garcia is. The fact that Mr. Garcia was approved for a Green Card in 1996, but will not actually receive it until 2019 (23 years later) under current immigration policy played a major role in helping the Assembly realize the fairness of AB 1024.

Hopefully the enactment will, at minimum, assuage the Justices’ concerns, and possibly convey the Legislature’s intent clearly enough to the Court to permit Mr. Garcia’s admission. If not, this bill clearly will remove any impediment for a subsequent “Dreamer” to achieve his or her ambition of becoming a lawyer in California.

AB 1024 gives to students who have graduated from college, graduated from law school, passed the Multistate Professional Responsibility test, and received a positive moral character determination from the Committee of Bar Examiners – a true challenge under the current circumstances (as are all the aforementioned) – the chance to realize the dream of becoming a lawyer and fighting for justice.