• Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court clearly expanded the reach of the Fourteenth Amendment but its decision in this case was ignored until the mid-twentieth century.

In a move that clearly targeted Chinese laundries, San Francisco required all laundries to have an operating license approved by the board of supervisors. These licenses were granted only to laundries in brick buildings, while most Chinese laundries were wooden. Yick Wo had operated a family laundry business for twenty-two years, and the laundry had been found safe in its last city inspection, which took place about a year before. When denied a license, Yick Wo challenged this regulation by continuing to operate his laundry. He was jailed for refusing to pay a fine.Fourteenth Amendment;Yick Wo v. Hopkins[Yick Wo v. Hopkins]

Although the California supreme court denied his petition for habeas corpus, the Supreme Court directed his release. The Court unanimously found the ordinance was a vastly greater exercise of a local government’s police power than was justified by circumstances. As such, the ordinance represented class legislation in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Although Yick Wo’s attorneys had alleged the ordinance was a violation of the 1880 Sino-American treaty, the Court rested the decision on the Fourteenth Amendment, clearly implying the incorporation doctrine used in the twentieth century. Changes in the political climate and in Court membership led this important ruling to be ignored except when it could benefit corporations.

Chinese Exclusion Cases

Due process, substantive

Equal protection clause

Fourteenth Amendment

Incorporation doctrine

Race and discrimination

Categories: History