Lem Moon Sing v. United States Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Lem Moon Sing decision upheld a federal law prohibiting district courts from reviewing habeas corpus petitions, thereby empowering immigration authorities to exclude or deport alien immigrants without any concern that judges might find fault with their procedures.

A businessman who had resided many years in California, Lem Moon Sing was born in China to Chinese parents, which made him ineligible for naturalized American citizenship. In 1894, he visited his native land with the intention of returning in a few months to resume living and working in the United States. During his absence, however, the U.S. Congress passed an appropriation act with a provision that immigration officials’ decisions were final when excluding aliens from admission into the United States under the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Decisions were subject to review by the secretary of the treasury. When arriving in San Francisco later that year, Sing appeared to meet the qualifications for reentry. He presented two credible witnesses testifying that he had conducted business as a merchant and was not a laborer excluded by the [a]Scott Act of 1888Scott Act of 1888. Immigration officials, nevertheless, denied him permission to enter the country.[c]Lem Moon Sing v. United StatesHabeas corpus[c]Lem Moon Sing v. United StatesHabeascorpus[cat]COURT CASES;Lem Moon Sing v. United States[03190][cat]EAST ASIAN IMMIGRANTS;Lem Moon Sing v. United States[03190]

Arguing that the exclusion was an unconstitutional denial of Due process protections;and Chinese exclusion[Chinese exclusion]due process and that it violated treaties with China, Sing petitioned the U.S. district court for a writ of habeas corpus, which would have allowed a judge to review the decision. Based on the 1894 law, the petition was denied. The Supreme Court, by an 8-1 margin, upheld the judgment of the lower court. Speaking for the majority, Justice Harlan, John MarshallJohn Marshall Harlan reviewed the Court’s precedents concerning the power of Congress to make immigration policy. While recognizing the duty of immigration officials to faithfully follow provisions in both laws and treaties, Harlan insisted that the U.S. Constitution empowered Congress to decide that the final judgment would be made by officials within the executive department of the government.[c]Lem Moon Sing v. United StatesHabeas corpus

Further Reading
  • Hyung-chan, Kim, ed. Asian Americans and the Supreme Court: A Documentary History. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1992.
  • McClain, Charles J. In Search of Equality: The Chinese Struggle Against Discrimination in Nineteenth-Century America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.

Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882

Chinese Exclusion Cases

Chinese immigrants

Congress, U.S.

History of immigration, 1783-1891

Immigration and Naturalization Service v. St. Cyr

Nishimura Ekiu v. United States

Supreme Court, U.S.

United States v. Ju Toy

Categories: History Content