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Bradwell v. Illinois

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Significance: The Supreme Court upheld a state's denial of the right of women to enter a profession traditionally reserved for men.


Myra Bradwell studied law with her attorney husband, and she edited and published the Chicago Legal News, a leading publication of the Midwest. Although she had passed the bar exam, her application for a state license to practice law was rejected solely because of her sex. She argued that her rights under the privileges and immunities clause of the Fourteenth Amendment were violated. By an 8-1 vote, the Supreme Court rejected her claim. Speaking for the Court, Justice Samuel F. Miller applied the restrictive interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment that he had announced the previous day in the Slaughterhouse Cases. The granting of licenses to practice law was entirely in the hands of the states and therefore not related to any question of national citizenship. In a concurring opinion, Joseph P. Bradley noted: “The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life.” Although the Illinois supreme court allowed Bradwell to practice law in 1890, it was not until Reed v. Reed (1971) that the Court applied the Fourteenth Amendment to overturn discriminatory laws based on sex.