Oyama v. California Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The influential Oyama decision overturned the portions of the California Alien Land Laws that discriminated against U.S. citizens on the basis of race, but the Supreme Court chose not to rule on the constitutionality of discrimination against noncitizens based on their race or ethnicity.

During the 1930’s, Kajiro Oyama, a Japanese immigrant ineligible for American citizenship, purchased eight acres of land in Southern California. Because the state’s Alien Land Laws of 1913 and 1920 prohibited noncitizens from owning land, he deeded the property to his minor son, Fred Oyama, who was a U.S. citizen by birth. The father then succeeded in gaining legal guardianship over his son. The local court at the time ignored a provision in the 1920 law requiring proof that land transfers in such circumstances were genuine gifts, not subterfuges to evade the restrictions on alien ownership. During World War II, when the Oyama family was displaced and residing in Utah, the state of California seized the family’s eight acres in an escheat trial, based on the accusation that Kajiro Oyama had violated the 1920 law. The state’s highest court upheld the action. Fred Oyama, with the support of the American Civil Liberties UnionAmerican Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari.Japanese immigrants;Oyama v. California[c]Oyama v. CaliforniaCalifornia;alien landlawsLand laws;Oyama v. CaliforniaNoncitizens;rights ofAlien land laws;and Oyama v. California[Oyama v. California]Japanese immigrants;Oyama v. California[c]Oyama v. CaliforniaCalifornia;alien land lawsLand laws;Oyama v. CaliforniaNoncitizens;rights of[cat]COURT CASES;Oyama v. California[04010][cat]LAND;Oyama v. California[04010]Alien land laws;and Oyama v. California[Oyama v. California]

By a 6-3 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Fred Oyama’s favor and struck down relevant portions of the Alien Land Laws as inconsistent with the [a]Fourteenth Amendment;equal protection clauseequal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Writing the opinion for the majority, Chief Justice Vinson, Fred M.Fred M. Vinson considered only the issue of discrimination against Fred Oyama and other U.S. citizens who had the difficult burden of proving that their ownership of land was not the result of an intentional effort to evade the 1920 law–a burden not required of other citizens. Vinson’s opinion ignored the broader issue of the state’s discrimination against Kajiro Oyama and other alien residents illegible for naturalization. In concurring opinions, three liberal members criticized the narrowness of the opinion. Four years later, however, California’s Supreme Court would decide the case of [c]Sei Fujii v. State of CaliforniaSei Fujii v. State of California (1952), which overturned both Alien Land Laws as incompatible with the state’s constitution.Japanese immigrants;Oyama v.California[c]Oyama v. CaliforniaCalifornia;alien land lawsLand laws;Oyama v. CaliforniaNoncitizens;rights of

Further Reading
  • Chuman, Frank. The Bamboo People: The Law and Japanese Americans. Del Mar, Calif.: Publisher’s Inc., 1976.
  • Itō, Kazuo. Issei: A History of Japanese Immigrants in North America. Seattle: Japanese Community Service, 1973.

Alien land laws

California

Citizenship

History of immigration after 1891

Sei Fujii v. State of California

Supreme Court, U.S.

Terrace v. Thompson

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