Chy Lung V. Freeman
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Chy Lung V. Freeman
Chy Lung v. Freeman
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Argued January 13-14, 1876
Decided March 20, 1876
Full case nameChy Lung v. Freeman
Citations92 U.S. 275 (more)
2 Otto 275; 23 L. Ed. 550
Case history
PriorAppeal from the California High Court
The power to set rules surrounding immigration, and to manage relations with foreign relations, rested with the United States Federal Government, rather than with the states.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Morrison Waite
Associate Justices
Nathan Clifford · Noah H. Swayne
Samuel F. Miller · David Davis
Stephen J. Field · William Strong
Joseph P. Bradley · Ward Hunt
Case opinion
MajorityMiller, joined by unanimous
Laws applied
Burlingame Treaty

Chy Lung v. Freeman, 92 U.S. 275 (1876),[1] was a United States Supreme Court case where the Supreme Court ruled that the power to set rules surrounding immigration, and to manage foreign relations, rested with the United States Federal Government, rather than with the states.[2][3][4] The case has been cited in other Supreme Court cases related to government authority on matters relating to immigration policy and immigration enforcement,[5] most recently in Arizona v. United States (2012).[6]



Immigration from China to the Western United States, particularly California, had picked up in the middle of the nineteenth century, starting with the California Gold Rush. There was hostility to Chinese immigration among many California natives, and in particular among labor unions representing white laborers. The government of California passed a number of laws to make the state unwelcoming to Chinese immigration, including the Anti-Coolie Act of 1862.

The United States federal government, on the other hand, was pursuing a more friendly approach to the Chinese government. In 1868, the governments of the United States and China agreed on the Burlingame Treaty, whereby China was granted most favored nation status for trade, and both countries would freely permit immigration of the citizens of the other country, but with no promise of a path to citizenship. Indeed, the Naturalization Act of 1870 explicitly restricted naturalization to blacks and whites, though citizenship at birth was still open to all (as would subsequently be affirmed by the Supreme Court in United States v. Wong Kim Ark).

In 1875, the State of California passed a statute authorizing the immigration commissioner to inspect passengers arriving in California at a cost of 75 cents per inspection (levied on the passenger) and giving him the authority to deny entry to passengers suspected of being lewd and debauched. Those suspected thus could be allowed entry if the captain of the ship paid a bond for them.

Similar statutes and associated court cases

Two other United States states, New York and Louisiana, had similar statutes that were challenged at around the same time.

  • Henderson v. Mayor of City of New York, 92 U.S. 259 (1875): This was a lawsuit by the owners of the steamship Ethiopia from Great Britain, that had arrived at New York City. The lawsuit challenged statutes of New York and Louisiana that required the owner of a ship to post a bond for landing immigrants to cover indemnities should they prove to need state assistance. The court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, arguing that the power to set immigration policy rested with the federal government, and setting a requirement of a bond constituted a sufficiently big policy with significant impact on international movement as to be the exclusive domain of the federal government.[7][8]
  • Commissioners of Immigration v. North German Lloyd

Case backdrop

22 women from China, including Chy Lung, were among the passengers on the steamer Japan that journeyed from China to San Francisco, arriving in 1875.[9] The immigration commissioner examined the passengers and identified Chy Lung and the other women as "lewd and debauched women." The captain of the ship had the option of paying a $500 bond per woman to allow her to land, with the bond having the ostensible purpose to "indemnify all the counties, towns, and cities of California against liability for her support or maintenance for two years." The captain, however, refused to pay the bond, and detained the women on board. They sued out a writ of habeas corpus, which led to them being moved into the custody of the Sheriff of the County and City of San Francisco, where they stayed, awaiting deportation upon the return of Japan, which had already left on its trip to China.[2]

The women refused to be deported to China, and appealed the decision to deport them. The California High Court upheld the constitutionality of the statute used to deny them entry, and upheld their deportation. They appealed the decision in the United States Supreme Court.[2] This was the first case to appear before the United States Supreme Court that involved a Chinese litigant.[9]

Supreme Court decision

Justice Stephen Johnson Field ordered the release of all the women from the Sheriff's custody. However, Chy Lung still pressed the case in the Supreme Court, seeking to test the constitutionality of the statute that had been used to imprison her and her companions.[2]

On October 1, 1875, the Supreme Court decided unanimously in favor of Chy Lung. Its primary argument was that the United States federal government, as opposed to state governments, were in charge of immigration policy and diplomatic relations with other nations, so it was not up to the state of California to impose restrictions on Chinese immigration. The Supreme Court also noted that this action by the government of California could jeopardize foreign relations for the United States government insofar as it ran afoul of treaty obligations.[2][3][10]

The court did note that states could make reasonable and necessary regulations concerning paupers and convicted criminals, but that this regulation went far beyond that and was also extortionary.[3]

The court was also critical of the State of California, the Commissioner of Immigration, and the Sheriff of San Francisco, for not presenting any arguments on their behalf in the case.[2]

The court was also critical of the lack of due process governing the immigration commissioner's decisions to mark particular immigrants as lewd and debauched.[2]

Passage of the Page Act

At around the time that Chy Lung v. Freeman was decided, the United States Federal Government passed its first official policy significantly restricting immigration, along lines similar to the California statute deemed unconstitutional. This law, called the Page Act of 1875, prohibited the entry of immigrants considered "undesirable", a category intended to include forced laborers and female prostitutes, and applied to people of Chinese citizenship and descent. The bar on female prostitutes was the most heavily enforced aspect of the Act. The implementation mechanics involved pre-screening of Chinese women in Hong Kong to ascertain their good moral character and certify that they were not prostitutes. This was very different from the operation of the California statute, which involved inspection by the immigration commissioner after the ship had landed.

In subsequent years, with the Angell Treaty of 1880 and Chinese Exclusion Act (1882), the United States Federal Government would significantly restrict Chinese immigration. Later decisions on cases litigated by Chinese litigants challenging United States immigration enforcement tended to be decided against the litigants and in favor of the federal government (the biggest of these, also known as the Chinese Exclusion Case, was Chae Chan Ping v. United States). However, insofar as these decisions deferred to the federal government's authority, they were not inconsistent with the decision in Chy Lung v. Freeman.


Judge Denny Chin, a circuit court judge in the United States who is famous for sentencing Bernie Madoff, arranged for the enactment of a courtroom drama about the case. He considered the case historic because it was the first by a Chinese litigant, and also one where the court ruled in favor of the litigant at a time when sentiment against Chinese and immigration was rising, with the Page Act of 1875 coming into force.[9]

The case has also been cited in arguments made by legal counsel as well as in opinions given by judges in subsequent Supreme Court decisions.[5] Most recently, in Arizona v. United States (2012), the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional some sections of Arizona's SB 1070, a law that would lead states to devote law enforcement resources to enforce some aspects of federal immigration law. The ruling cited Chy Lung v. Freeman as a precedent.[6]

See also


  1. ^ "Dates of Supreme Court Decisions and Arguments" (PDF). Retrieved 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Chy Lung v. Freeman, 92 U.S. 275 (1876).
  3. ^ a b c "Chy Lung v. Freeman". Immigration To The United States. Retrieved 2015.
  4. ^ "Chy Lung v. Freeman (1875)". Constitutional Rights Foundation: Educating About Immigration. Retrieved 2015.
  5. ^ a b "Chy Lung v. Freeman, 92 U.S. 275 (1876)". Court Listener. Retrieved 2015.
  6. ^ a b Arizona v. United States, 567 U.S. 387 (2012).
  7. ^ Henderson v. Mayor of City of New York, 92 U.S. 259 (1875).
  8. ^ "Henderson v. Mayor of the City of New York". Immigration To The United States. October 1, 1875. Retrieved 2015.
  9. ^ a b c Yuan, Elizabeth (September 4, 2013). "'22 Lewd Chinese Women' and Other Courtroom Dramas. A U.S. circuit judge brings historic Asian-American trials back to life". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2015.
  10. ^ John Davison Lawson (January 1, 1883). Leading Cases Simplified: A Collection of the Leading Cases in Equity and Constitutional Law. F. H. Thomas & Company., pp. 269-271

External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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