Monday, January 6, 2014

Bernal v. Fainter case brief

Bernal v. Fainter case brief summary
467 U.S. 216 (1984)

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's ruling in favor of petitioner alien, concluding that Tex. Rev. Civ. Stat. Ann. art. 5949(2) (1984) did not offend the Equal Protection Clause of U.S. Constitutional Amendment XIV because the notary public statute's citizenship requirement bore a rational relationship to a state's interest in the proper and orderly handling of legal documents. Petitioner appealed.

Petitioner applied to become a notary public. Respondent secretary of state denied the application because petitioner failed to satisfy the statutory requirement that a notary public be a citizen of the United States, Tex. Rev. Civ. Stat. Ann. art. 5949(2) (1984). Claiming the citizenship requirement violated the federal constitution, petitioner brought suit.

Applying strict scrutiny, the district court ruled in favor of petitioner. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the proper standard for review was the rational-relationship test and that art. 5949(2) bore a rational relationship to the state's interest in the proper and orderly handling of a countless variety of legal documents of importance to the state. Petitioner appealed.


  • Finding the political-function exception was inapplicable because Texas notaries were not invested either with policymaking responsibility or broad discretion in the execution of public policy requiring the routine exercise of authority over individuals, the United States Supreme Court reversed because the state failed to show that art. 5949(2) furthered a compelling state interest by the least restrictive means practically available.
The Court reversed and remanded the federal appellate court's judgment for respondents, holding the political-function exception to strict scrutiny was inapplicable because a notary public's essentially clerical and ministerial duties did not implicate responsibilities that go to the heart of representative government. By denying petitioner alien the opportunity to become a notary, the state violated his constitutional right to equal protection.

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