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District of Columbia Ct. of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983)

District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman

No. 81-1335

Argued December 8, 1982

Decided March 23, 1983

460 U.S. 462


Respondents filed petitions in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals asking for waivers of that court's District of Columbia Bar admission rule that requires applicants to have graduated from a law school approved by the American Bar Association. The court issued per curiam orders denying the petitions. Respondents then filed complaints in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, challenging the District of Columbia Court of Appeals' denials of their waiver petitions and also challenging the constitutionality of the bar admission rule. The District Court dismissed the complaints on the ground that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed and remanded.


1. The proceedings before the District of Columbia Court of Appeals were judicial in nature. They 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., 211 U. S. 210, 211 U. S. 226. With respect to both respondents, the court adjudicated claims of a present right to admission to the Bar. Pp. 460 U. S. 476-482.

2. United States district courts have no jurisdiction over challenges to state court decisions in particular cases arising out of judicial proceedings even if those challenges allege that the state court's action was unconstitutional. Review of those decisions may be had only in this Court. Thus, to the extent that respondents sought review in the District Court of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals' denials of their petitions for waiver, the District Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over their complaints. But United States district courts do have subject matter jurisdiction over general challenges to state bar rules promulgated by state courts in nonjudicial proceedings, which do not require review of a final state court judgment in a particular case. Accordingly, here the District Court has jurisdiction over the elements of respondents' complaints involving a general attack on the constitutionality of the District of Columbia Bar admission rule. Pp. 460 U. S. 482-488.

213 U.S.App.D.C. 119, 661 F.2d 1295, vacated and remanded.

Page 460 U. S. 463

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 460 U. S. 488.

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