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Asian American Court Cases

Asian American Court Cases. Alien Land Laws of 1913 & 1920 United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind Takao Ozama v. United States Oyama v. California Yick Wo v. Hopkins Hirabayashi v. United States Korematsu v. United States. The California Alien Land Law of 1913.

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Asian American Court Cases

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  1. Asian American Court Cases Alien Land Laws of 1913 & 1920 United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind Takao Ozama v. United States Oyama v. California Yick Wo v. Hopkins Hirabayashi v. United States Korematsu v. United States

  2. The California Alien Land Law of 1913 • Prohibited "aliens ineligible for citizenship" (i.e. all Asian immigrants) which included everyone save for whites and persons of African descent from owning land or property, but permits three year leases. It affected the Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and Korean immigrant farmers in California. It passed thirty-five to two in the Senate and seventy-two to three in the Assembly. • California was not alone in passing restrictive land laws – Washington, for example, had such a statute as early as 1886. Such land control laws have been used in 19th century United States, and can be traced back to English common law.

  3. The Alien Land Law of 1920 • This enacted further restrictions. It prohibited the transfer of land to noncitizens by sale or lease. Aliens not eligible for citizenship could not hold land in guardianship for their children who were citizens. If it was determined that land was purchased in one person's name, but with money from an Asian alien, the land would automatically become state property. Despite the punitive provision of the Alien Land Laws, evasions were largely ignored. Between 1912 and 1946, only seventy-six escheat proceedings were filed in California under the Alien Land Laws. • The Alien Land Law of 1913 and 1920 were found unconstitutional in 1952 by the Supreme Court of California as a violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution in the case of Sei Fujii v. California. In 1956, all Alien Land Laws were repealed in California by popular vote.

  4. United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind, 261 U.S. 204 (1923) • A case in which the United States Supreme Court decided that Bhagat Singh Thind, who was a high caste Punjabi, settled in Oregon, could not be a naturalized citizen of the United States, despite the fact that a proportion of anthropologists had defined a proportion of people in India as part of the Caucasian race. The ruling followed a decision in Takao Ozawa v. United States, where the same court had ruled that a light-skinned native of Japan could not be counted as "white", because "white" meant "Caucasian". In Bhagat Singh Thind, the court seemed to contradict itself, ruling that Thind was not a "white person" as used in "common speech, to be interpreted in accordance with the understanding of the common man." Using the "understanding of the common man" argument, it was therefore decided that Congress never intended for Indians to be able to naturalize.

  5. OPINION & BACKGROUND • Associate Justice George Sutherland found that, while Thind, an Asian Indian, may have had "purity of Aryan blood" due to being "born in Punjab" and having "high caste" status he was not Caucasian in the "common understanding", so he could not be included in the "statutory category as white persons". • Not only were Indians denied the ability to naturalize, their new classification as Asian, rather than white, allowed the retroactive stripping of previously naturalized Indians of their American citizenship, because zealous prosecutors argued that Indian Americans had gained citizenship illegally, a claim often upheld. Moreover, without citizenship, Indian land owners fell under the net of the California Alien Land Law and other racist laws spearheaded by growing hatred against Asian immigrants.

  6. OPINION & BACKGROUND • Specifically, Attorney General Ulysses S. Webb was very active in revoking Indian land purchases; in a bid to strengthen the AEL, he promised to prevent Indians from buying or leasing land. Under intense pressure, and with The Barred Zone Act of 1917 preventing fresh immigration to strengthen the fledgling Indian-American community, most Indians left the United States, leaving only half their population, 2,405, by 1940.

  7. AFTERMATH • As a result of a U.S. Supreme Court decision stipulating that no person of East Indian origin could become a naturalized American, the first person of Indian origin to earn American citizenship, A.K. Mozumdar, had his citizenship revoked. A decision on his appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that revocation. • Suggestive of the poor coordination within the legal system of the early 20th century is the fact that Thind applied for and received U.S. citizenship through the state of New York a few years after his original U.S. citizenship was revoked by the U.S. Supreme Court. Numerous other instances exist of naïve clerks, or clerks acting in protest, who granted citizenship in defiance of the Supreme Court. Enthusiastic anti-Indian sentiments seemed fairly absent in New England. • As public support for Indians grew throughout World War II, and as India's independence came closer to reality, Indians argued for an end to their legislative discrimination. The repeal of Chinese exclusion laws in 1943 and the granting of naturalization privileges to Chinese encouraged Indians to hope for similar gains. Hurdling over many members of Congress and the American Federation of Labor, which vehemently opposed removing legislative measures barricading Indian immigration and naturalization, the Indian community succeeded in gaining support among several prominent congressmen, as well as President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The support culminated in the signing into law by President Truman on July 2, 1946, of the Luce-Celler Act. This Act reversed the Thind decision, insofar as allowing naturalization to Indians, and set a token quota for their immigration at 100 per year. • In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Hart-Celler Immigration Act, which phased out the national origins quota system first instituted in 1921. In 1965–1970, 27,859 Indian immigrants entered the United States. Immigration from India in 1965–1993 was 558,980.

  8. Takao Ozawa v. United States, 260 U.S. 178 (1922) • A case in which the United States Supreme Court found Takao Ozawa, a Japanese man, ineligible for naturalization. In 1922, Takao Ozawa filed for United States citizenship under the Naturalization Act of June 29, 1906 which allowed white persons and persons of African descent or African nativity to naturalize. He did not challenge the constitutionality of the racial restrictions. Instead, he attempted to have the Japanese classified as “white.”

  9. OPINION OF THE COURT & EFFECTS OF THE DECISION •  Associate Justice G. Sutherland found that only Caucasians were white, and therefore the Japanese, by not being Caucasian, were not white and instead were members of an "unassimilable race," lacking provisions in any Naturalization Act. • Within three months, Sutherland carried a similarly disfavorable ruling on another Supreme Court case concerning another alien from a Sikh immigrant from Punjab region in India (then British India) seeking U.S. citizenship, United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind. The upshot of this ruling was that although all whites were considered Caucasian, Caucasians were not necessarily considered white. (‘Caucasian,’ a term used by physical anthropologists at the time to also refer to people whose ancestry traced to the Asian subcontinent, was not used in common parlance to refer to white people.) • Both decisions had a deleterious effect on Asian Americans as a class, strengthening and re-affirming the racist policies of U.S. immigration laws. With successful judicial backing, policymakers passed more anti-Asian laws across the nation under the heavy lobbying by the burgeoning Asiatic Exclusion League. This trend continued until the civil rights movements of the 1960s.

  10. Oyama v. State of California, 332 U.S. 633 (1948) • A case in which the United States Supreme Court decided that specific provisions of the 1913 and 1920 California Alien Land Laws abridged Fred Oyama’s rights and privileges guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment and by his status as an American citizen. However, the court did not overturn the California Alien Land Laws as unconstitutional.

  11. BACKGROUND • World War II tensions contributed significantly to anti-Japanese sentiments and the internment of Japanese persons. California responded by tightening its Alien Land Laws even further, and actively began pursuing escheat procedures. KajiroOyama, a Japanese citizen, was one of the individuals targeted. • KajiroOyama, a Japanese citizen ineligible for naturalization, purchased six acres of land in southern California in 1934. He paid $4,000 for the land, and the seller executed a deed to Fred Oyama, Kajiro’s six years old son. Six months later, Kajiro petitioned the Superior Court of San Diego County to be appointed Fred’s guardian, stating that Fred owned the six acres. The court permitted this. The land parcel was expanded by an adjoining two acres in 1937. • In 1942, Fred and his family were displaced along with all other Japanese persons in the area. In 1944, the State of California filed a petition to declare an escheat of the eight acres of land on the ground that the purchases made in 1934 and 1937 had been made with intent to violate and evade the Alien Land Law.

  12. STATE COURT PROCEEDINGS • The trial court found that KajiroOyama, the father, had enjoyed the beneficial use of the land, and that the 1934 and 1937 land transfers were subterfuges done with intent to avoid escheat procedure. The court ruled in favor of the state, stating that pursuant to the Alien Land Law, the parcels had vested in the state as of the date of illicit transfers in 1934 and 1937. • The Supreme Court of California upheld the trial court’s finding as justified by the evidence. It further ruled that California was permitted to exclude ineligible aliens from purchasing, transferring, and owning agricultural land, and that Fred Oyama was deprived of no constitutional guarantees.

  13. CONCLUSION • After the case was appealed to and upheld by the California Supreme Court, it went to the United States Supreme Court via a writ of certiorari. • The Court agreed by a vote of 8 to 1 with the petitioners’ first contention – that the Alien Land Law deprived Fred Oyama of the equal protection of California’s laws and of his privileges as an American citizen. Because this decision alone was grounds for reversal of the California Supreme Court decision, the Court saw no need to address the second and third contentions - that the law denied KajiroOyama equal protection of the laws, and that the law contravened the due process clause by sanctioning a taking of property after expiration of the appropriate limitations period.

  14. YickWo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356 (1886) • The first case where the United States Supreme Court ruled that a law that was race-neutral on its face that was administered in a prejudicial manner, an infringement of the Equal Protection Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. FACTS • In the 1880s, Chinese immigrants to California faced many legal and economic hurdles, including discriminatory provisions in the California constitution. As a result, they were excluded, either by law or by bias, from many professions. Many turned to the laundry business and in San Francisco about 89% of the laundry workers were of Chinese descent. • In 1880, the City of San Francisco passed an ordinance that persons could not operate a laundry in a wooden building without a permit from the Board of Supervisors. At the time, about 95% of the city's 320 laundries were in wooden buildings. Approximately two-thirds of those laundries were owned by Chinese persons. Although most of the city's wooden building laundry owners applied for a permit, none were granted to any Chinese owner, while only one non-Chinese owner was denied a permit. • Yick Wo (Americanization: Lee Yick), who had lived in California and had operated a laundry in a wooden building for many years, continued to operate his laundry and was convicted and fined $10.00 for violating the ordinance. He sued for a writ of habeas corpus when he refused to pay the fine and was imprisoned in default of the fine.

  15. BEFORE THE COURT •  The state argued that the ordinance was strictly one out of concern for safety, as laundries of the day often needed very hot stoves to boil water for laundry, and indeed laundry fires were not unknown and often resulted in the destruction of adjoining buildings as well. • However, the petitioner pointed out that prior to the new ordinance, the inspection and approval of laundries in wooden building had been left up to fire wardens. YickWo's laundry had never failed an inspection for fire safety. Moreover, the application of the prior law focused only on laundries in crowded areas of the city, while the new law was being enforced on isolated wooden buildings as well. The law also ignored other wooden buildings where fires were common - even cooking stoves posed the same risk as those used for laundry.

  16. OPINION OF THE COURT •  The Court, in a unanimous opinion written by Justice Matthews, noted that it was clear that the administration of the law was discriminatory even if the ordinance was not. Even though the Chinese laundry owners were usually not American citizens, the court ruled they were still entitled to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. He also noted that the court had previously ruled that it was acceptable to hold administrators of the law liable when they abused their authority. He denounced the law as a blatant attempt to exclude Chinese from the laundry trade in San Francisco, and the court struck down the law, ordering dismissal of all charges against other laundry owners who had been jailed. • Yick Wo had little application shortly after the decision. In fact, it was not long after that the Court developed the "separate but equal" doctrine in Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896), in practice allowing discriminatory treatment of African Americans. Yick Wo was never applied at the time to Jim Crow laws which, although also racially neutral, were in practice discriminatory against blacks. However, by the 1950s, the Warren Court used the principle established in Yick Wo to strike down several attempts by states and municipalities in the deep south to limit the political rights of blacks. Yick Wo has been cited in well over 150 Supreme Court cases since it was decided.

  17. Hirabayashi v. United States, 320 U.S. 81 (1943) •  This case has been largely overshadowed by Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944), decided the following term. Facts of the Case • In the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt acted to prevent incidents of subversion and espionage from individuals of Japanese descent living in the United States. He issued two executive orders which were quickly enacted into law. One gave the Secretary of War the power to designate certain parts of the country "military areas" and exclude certain persons from them. The second established the War Relocation Authority which had the power to remove, maintain, and supervise persons who were excluded from the military areas. Gordon Kiyoshi Hirabayashi, a student at the University of Washington, was convicted of violating a curfew and relocation order.

  18. Question & Conclusion •  Did the President's executive orders and the power delegated to the military authorities discriminate against Americans and resident aliens of Japanese descent in violation of the Fifth Amendment? •  The Court found the President's orders and the implementation of the curfew to be constitutional. Chief Justice Stone, writing for the unanimous Court, took into account the great importance of military installations and weapons production that occurred on the West Coast and the "solidarity" that individuals of Japanese descent felt with their motherland. He reasoned that restrictions on Japanese actions served an important national interest. The Court ducked the thorny relocation issue and focused solely on the curfew, which the Court viewed as a necessary "protective measure." Stone argued that racial discrimination was justified since "in time of war residents having ethnic affiliations with an invading enemy may be a greater source of danger than those of a different ancestry." • In 1986 and 1987, Hirabayashi's convictions on both charges were overturned by the U.S. District Court in Seattle and the Federal Appeals Court.

  19. Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1994) FACTS OF THE CASE • During World War II, Presidential Executive Order 9066 and congressional statutes gave the military authority to exclude citizens of Japanese ancestry from areas deemed critical to national defense and potentially vulnerable to espionage. Korematsu remained in San Leandro, California and violated Civilian Exclusion Order No. 34 of the U.S. Army, because he refused to be separated from his Italian-American girlfriend. QUESTION • Did the President and Congress go beyond their war powers by implementing exclusion and restricting the rights of Americans of Japanese descent?

  20. CONCLUSION •  The Court sided with the government and held that the need to protect against espionage outweighed Korematsu's rights. Justice Black argued that compulsory exclusion, though constitutionally suspect, is justified during circumstances of "emergency and peril." • The U.S. Government officially apologized for the internment in the 1980s and paid reparations totaling $1.2 billion dollars, as well as an additional $400 million in benefits signed into law by George H. W. Bush in 1992. In January of 1998, President Bill Clinton named Fred Korematsu a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. • Other significant legal decisions arose out of Japanese American internment, relating to the powers of the government to detain citizens in wartime, i.e. • Yasui v. United States (1943) • Ex parte Endo (1944)

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