Spurred by a Chico man's quest to become a lawyer, Gov. Jerry Brown this weekend made California the first state in the nation to allow illegal immigrants to get their law licenses if they've earned a law degree and passed the State Bar exam.
As part of a flurry of pro-immigrant legislation approved in recent weeks, the governor signed a bill that permits the California Supreme Court to give law licenses to immigrants who are not yet United States citizens.
But in a departure from actions widening immigrant rights, Brown also vetoed a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, that would have allowed lawful permanent residents who are not citizens to serve on juries.
In a statement, Brown
Wieckowski said in a statement that he is "disappointed" by the governor's veto of AB 1401 and disagrees with Brown's rationale.
"It is fair and just that they be asked to share in the obligation to do jury duty, just as they serve in our courts, schools, police departments and armed forces," Wieckowski said.
The legislation allowing illegal immigrants to become licensed lawyers was pushed in September as a result of a legal showdown over the issue that had reached the state Supreme Court.
Sergio Garcia, a law school graduate who has waited for his green card for nearly a decade, has been in limbo while the California Supreme Court determined whether it had the legal authority to give him a law license. The Obama administration has argued that federal immigration law prevents such licensing unless a state adopts a specific law allowing law licenses for illegal immigrants.
The Supreme Court heard arguments in Garcia's case in early September, when a majority of the justices appeared likely to side with the federal government's position. Several of the justices invited California legislators to resolve the problem, and a bill was quickly introduced to address Garcia's predicament, backed heavily by the Latino caucus.
Garcia could not be reached for comment Monday, but in the past has told this newspaper he has dreamed of becoming a lawyer and hoped his case would open the door for immigrants in his position to gain the right to a law license.
The legislation would appear to resolve the Supreme Court case, but there has been no order released yet by the justices.
There are similar legal challenges unfolding in Florida and New York, where illegal immigrants with law degrees are also seeking law licenses.