Throughout American history, Asians have fought for justice and civil rights in Supreme Court cases against racism and biases. Some cases were successful, while others were not. Cases of the Supreme Court of the United States concerning Asians and the advancement of Asian civil rights include ChyLung v. Freeman, People v. Hall, Ozawa v. United States, United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind, Lum v. Rice, and Korematsu v. United States. These cases, which varied from citizenship and immigration to school segregation, challenged and overtime contributed to changes in the laws of the United States.
People v. Hall - 1854
A California law stated that “No Black, or Mulatto person, or Indian shall be allowed to give evidence in favor of, or against a White man.” In People v. Hall, a Chinese man witnessed a White man committing murder and brought his testimony of the murder case to court. The California Supreme Court ruled, as justice John Murray concluded, that the Chinese man’s testimony was inadmissible.
ChyLung v. Freeman - 1875
ChyLung v. Freeman was a case that challenged California’s immigration laws. One California law prohibited undesirable foreigners, which were deemed by state immigration officials and included non-citizens that are “lunatic, idiotic, deaf, blind, crippled, or infirm, or likely to become so, or is a convicted criminal, or a lewd or debauched woman,” from leaving their ship and entering California unless the captain of their ship posts a bond to the immigration official by paying money to assure that the supposedly undesirable foreign passengers would not be under the state’s responsibility for two years. ChyLung was a Chinese woman and passenger aboard a ship going from China to San Francisco Bay. Due to the California law, her ship’s captain detained ChyLung and other women on the ship after deeming them as “lewd or debauched woman” and refusing to post the bonds. Because of the custody, ChyLung submitted a writ of error to the Supreme Court of the United States. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled the case with the verdict that the California immigration law conflicted with the federal government’s power to set immigration laws, favoring ChyLung.
United States v. Wong Kim Ark - 1898
The Chinese Exclusion Act passed in 1882 did not grant citizenship to Chinese immigrants and forbade immigrant Chinese laborers from coming to the United States. In US v. Wong Kim Ark, Wong Kim Ark, who was born in San Francisco, California, went back to China with his Chinese immigrant parents in 1890; however, since Wong Kim Ark was a native-born citizen, only Wong Kim Ark returned to California. In 1892, 21-year-old Wong Kim Ark traveled back to China to see his parents. When he returned to the United States in 1895, immigration officials did not allow Wong Kim Ark to enter because he was not a U.S. citizen anymore. The Supreme Court ruled the case in favor of Wong Kim Ark and recognized him as an U.S. citizen based on the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.
Ozawa v. United States - 1922
The 1790 Naturalization Act limited citizenship to only aliens that are free White people living in the United States for a term of two years. In Ozawa v. US, when Takao Ozawa, who was a Japanese man that attended school in the United States and lived and worked in Hawaii, was qualified and applied for naturalization and citizenship, Ozawa was rejected because he was not racially White. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Ozawa and upheld that Ozawa is ineligible for citizenship because he was Japanese.
United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind - 1923
In the United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind case, although Bhagat Singh Thind was an Asian Indian man, who would have been racially White and categorized as Aryan or Caucasian at the time, Thind was ineligible for citizenship. The Supreme Court ruled against Thind, upholding that he could not be a citizen because of the 1790 Naturalization Act and that individuals of Caucasian descent needed to have a White skin tone.
Lum v. Rice - 1927
Lum v. Rice was a case involving segregation in school. Martha Lum was a nine-year-old native-born citizen of the United States attending her first day in an all-White school, Rosedale Consolidated School. During recess, Martha Lum was notified that she could not go to the school anymore because the school board classified her as “colored.” Thereafter, Martha Lum’s father Gong Lum filed a lawsuit. The Mississippi Supreme Court held that Martha Lum was not of White race, but was of “the Mongolian or yellow race,” and thus was “colored.” The Supreme Court affirmed the Mississippi Supreme Court.
Korematsu v. United States - 1944
In the Korematsu v. United States case, the U.S. government and President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 two months after the attack to move Japanese-Americans to relocation camps for national security because Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor during World War II. Fred Korematsu, a Japanese-American man, disobeyed the Executive Order by not relocating and argued that the order violated the Fifth Amendment. As a result, Korematsu was arrested for violating the Executive order. The Supreme Court’s verdict of the case was that Korematsu violated the Executive Order and that Executive Order 9066 is not unlawful.
People of Asian heritage have faced countless obstacles throughout the history of the United States. In many cases, the law that was in place was unjust and thus made gaining a voice in civil rights movements require further efforts to dismantle and create laws that would treat all people fairly. It is important, and especially now, that people advocate for introducing and passing policies and laws that treat people of color fairly and alleviate the struggles of Asians in the western world.