The California Supreme Court indicated Wednesday that federal law appeared to prevent immigrants without green cards from obtaining licenses to practice law.
During a hearing in a packed courtroom, several justices suggested they were bound to follow a law passed by Congress that denies professional licenses to immigrants who are in the country illegally.
The state high court is considering a bid by Sergio C. Garcia, 36, a Mexican immigrant who has spent most of his life in California, passed the state bar examination and has been waiting 18 years to obtain a green card.
Although the State Bar of California and Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris favored admitting Garcia, the court appeared to believe that Congress had tied its hands. Not one justice suggested that Garcia was likely to win his case.
Justice Marvin R. Baxter noted that the federal ban specifically allows state legislatures to override it and wondered aloud why California lawmakers had failed to act.
"I would think there is a lot of public support for this," said Baxter, usually the court's most conservative justice. "It seems to me a classic case where the political process could achieve a lot more than asking this court to legislate."
Justice Goodwin Liu, probably the court's most liberal justice, appeared to agree with Baxter that the court had little choice but to deny Garcia a law license.