Bernal v. Fainter

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Bernal v. Fainter
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued March 28, 1984
Decided May 30, 1984
Full case name Bernal v. Fainter, Secretary of State of Texas, et al.
Citations 467 U.S. 216 (more)
104 S. Ct. 2312; 81 L. Ed. 2d 175; 1984 U.S. LEXIS 93; 52 U.S.L.W. 4669
Prior history Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
Holding
Texas statute (Article 5949(2)) requiring that a notary public be a United States citizen violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Pp. 219-228.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Marshall, joined by Burger, Brennan, White, Blackmun, Powell, Stevens, O'Connor
Dissent Rehnquist
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. XIV

Bernal v. Fainter, 467 U.S. 216 (1984), is a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the Equal Protection Clause prohibited the state of Texas from barring noncitizens from applying for commission as a notary public.

The Supreme Court recognized that legal aliens are a suspect class (citing Graham v. Richardson, 403 U.S. 365 (1971)), and therefore any law applying to legal aliens as a class is subject to strict scrutiny. The Court also recognized a "political function" exception that subjects alienage classification laws to a lower standard of review for "positions intimately related to the process of democratic self-governance." However, the Court held that since the requirements of being a notary are essentially ministerial (that is, without judgment or discretion, either the person fits the statutory requirement to have a document authenticated or they do not), and the only real requirement of a notary was to follow the law, being a notary does not have any special character of citizenship that would require one to necessarily be a citizen. This is unlike, say, being a police officer, where a locality may require police officers to be citizens because they act on behalf of the state and have considerable discretion in how the law is enforced.

The Supreme Court struck down the Texas law that required a notary to be a citizen. The court also noted that notary commissions are issued by the Texas Secretary of State, who is not required to be a citizen despite holding the "highest appointive position" in Texas.

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