SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Supreme Court moved forward with a rule Monday to allow undocumented law school graduates to legally practice in the state.
The state’s high court, which regulates the practice of law in Utah, heard arguments in October in a case brought by two Utah law school graduates who are identified in court filings as Jane and Mary Doe. Both are recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which shields them from deportation and allows them to lawfully work in the U.S.
“It’s a happy day for them because it means they can apply for admission and practice law in their home state,” said Tony Kaye, a lawyer for the women.
“Our clients are no different than any other lawyers in the state. They’re just as deserving of the right to practice,” he said, adding that they also bring diversity to the bar.
One of the graduates attended law school at Brigham Young University, while the other went to the University of Utah. Both passed the bar in California but couldn’t work in general practice in the state they call home, though federal law permits one of the women to practice immigration law in Utah.
The justices found that the Utah Constitution does not prohibit the court from adopting a rule that would permit those with DACA status — often referred to as “Dreamers” — to practice law in Utah. New York and Pennsylvania reached the same conclusion when the issue arose in those states, the court noted.
The proposed rule will now go out for public comment until Jan. 23. The court will review the comments and either adopt or modify the rule. Utah would be the ninth state to allow DACA recipients to practice law.
The Utah State Bar does not limit admission to U.S. citizens, but it verifies an applicant’s legal presence in the country and denies admission to those who can’t establish that they are legally present. The Utah State Bar also petitioned the state’s top court to let undocumented law school graduates practice in the state.
While the Utah Supreme Court has exclusive authority over the practice of law in the state, a 1996 federal law prohibits states from issuing licenses to some undocumented residents without an act of the Legislature.
After hearing from the state bar, the attorney general’s office, law professors, legislative attorneys and others, the justices wrote that they are “confident” that Utah Constitution does not prohibit the court from adopting the rule.
Provo attorney Randy Spencer raised the issue with a legislative committee last year after he looked to hire a BYU law school graduate who doesn’t have legal status. The woman came to the U.S. with her parents at age 12.
Lawmakers didn’t take any action in favor of letting the court petition run its course.
The U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether President Donald Trump can move forward with his plans to end the Obama-era DACA program. It has allowed about 700,000 young adults without legal status, including 10,500 in Utah, to study and work without fear of deportation.