Terrace v. Thompson Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

A major setback for legally admitted immigrants from Asia, the Terrace decision upheld the validity of state laws prohibiting Asians from owning or leasing land for the purpose of agriculture.

In 1921, the Washington State legislature enacted a law that prohibited aliens from buying or selling land for agricultural purposes unless they had “in good faith declared their intention to become citizens of the United States.” The law, which was enforced by severe criminal sanctions, did not make any exception for Asian residents who were legally disqualified from becoming naturalized citizens. Terrace, an alien Japanese farmer wanting to lease land, argued in court that the law violated both the Fourteenth Amendment and a treaty with Japan that guaranteed the right of Japanese citizens to participate in trade on an equal basis with U.S. citizens.[c]Terrace v. ThompsonLand laws;Terrace v. ThompsonWashington State;alien land lawsAsian immigrants;alien land laws[c]Terrace v. ThompsonLand laws;Terrace v. ThompsonWashington State;alien land lawsAsian immigrants;alien landlaws[cat]COURT CASES;Terrace v. Thompson[cat]EAST ASIAN IMMIGRANTS;Terrace v. Thompson

The U.S. Supreme Court, however, rejected Terrace’s arguments. Although the Court in [c]Truax v. RaichTruax v. Raich (1915) had recognized the constitutional right of a resident alien to earn a livelihood in a common occupation, it concluded that this right did not extend to “the privilege of owning or controlling agricultural land within the state.” The police power of the state included discretionary regulation of the “quality and allegiance” of persons who might exercise this important privilege that affected “the safety and power of the state itself.” Defining agricultural production as distinct from trade or commerce, moreover, the Court concluded that the law was not inconsistent with the applicable treaty.[c]Terrace v. ThompsonLand laws;Terrace v. ThompsonWashington State;alien land lawsAsian immigrants;alien land laws

Further Reading
  • Chuman, Frank. The Bamboo People: The Law and Japanese Americans. Del Mar, Calif.: Publisher’s Inc., 1976.
  • Hyung-chan, Kim, ed. Asian Americans and the Supreme Court: A Documentary History. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1992.

Asian immigrants

Constitution, U.S.

Japanese immigrants

Oyama v. California

Ozawa v. United States

Supreme Court, U.S.

Truax v. Raich

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