United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind

United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind

Litigants=United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind
ArgueDateA=January 11
DecideDate=February 19
FullName=United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind
Citation=43 S. Ct. 338; 67 L. Ed. 616; 1923 U.S. LEXIS 2544
Prior=Certificate from the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

"United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind", 261 U.S. 204 (1923), was a case in which the United States Supreme Court decided that Bhagat Singh Thind, who was a high caste Punjabi Sikh, settled in Oregon, could not be a naturalized citizen of the United States, despite the fact that anthropologists had defined the people in India as belonging to the Caucasian race. The ruling followed a decision in "Takao Ozawa v. United States", where the same court had ruled that a light-skinned native of Japan could not be counted as "white", because "white" meant "Caucasian". In "Bhagat Singh Thind", the court seemed to contradict itself, ruling that Thind was not a "white person" as used in "common speech, to be interpreted in accordance with the understanding of the common man." Using the "understanding of the common man" argument, it was therefore decided that Congress never intended for Indians to be able to naturalize.

The bench


Associate Justice George Sutherland found that, while Thind, an Asian Indian, may have had "purity of Aryan blood" due to being "born in Village Taragarh Talawa,near Jandiala Guru, Amritsar, Punjab" and having "high caste" status he was not Caucasian in the "common understanding", so he could not be included in the "statutory category as white persons". George Sutherland wrote in his summary:

United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind, Certificate From The Circuit Court Of Appeals For The Ninth Circuit., No. 202. Argued January 11, 12, 1923.—Decided February 19, 1923, United States Reports, v. 261, The Supreme Court, October Term, 1922, 204–215.]


Not only were Indians denied the ability to naturalize, their new classification as Asian, rather than white, allowed the retroactive stripping of previously naturalized Indians of their American citizenship, because zealous prosecutors argued that Indian Americans had gained citizenship illegally, a claim often upheld. Moreover, without citizenship, Indian land owners fell under the net of the California Alien Land Law and other racist laws spearheaded by growing hatred against Asian immigrants. Specifically, Attorney General Ulysses S. Webb was very active in revoking Indian land purchases; in a bid to strengthen the AEL, he promised to prevent Indians from buying or leasing land. Under intense pressure, and with The Barred Zone Act of 1917 preventing fresh immigration to strengthen the fledgling Indian-American community, most Indians left the United States, leaving only half their population, 2,405, by 1940.


As a result of a U.S. Supreme Court decision stipulating that no person of East Indian origin could become a naturalized American, the first person of Indian origin to earn American citizenship, A.K. Mozumdar, had his citizenship revoked. A decision on his appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that revocation.

Suggestive of the poor coordination within the legal system of the early 20th century is the fact that Thind applied for and received U.S. citizenship through the state of New York a few years after his original U.S. citizenship was revoked by the U.S. Supreme Court. Numerous other instances exist of naïve clerks, or clerks acting in protest, who granted citizenship in defiance of the Supreme Court. Enthusiastic anti-Indian sentiments seemed fairly absent in New England.

As public support for Indians grew throughout World War II, and as India's independence came closer to reality, Indians argued for an end to their legislative discrimination. The repeal of Chinese exclusion laws in 1943 and the granting of naturalization privileges to Chinese encouraged Indians to hope for similar gains. Hurdling over many members of Congress and the American Federation of Labor, which vehemently opposed removing legislative measures barricading Indian immigration and naturalization, the Indian community succeeded in gaining support among several prominent congressmen, as well as President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The support culminated in the signing into law by President Truman on July 2, 1946, of the Luce-Celler Act. This Act reversed the Thind decision, insofar as allowing naturalization to Indians, and set a token quota for their immigration at 100 per year.

In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Hart-Celler Immigration Act, which phased out the national origins quota system first instituted in 1921. In 1965–1970, 27,859 Indian immigrants entered the United States. Immigration from India in 1965–1993 was 558,980. [http://www.cis.org/articles/1995/back395.html]

ee also

* List of United States Supreme Court cases, volume 261


External links

* http://www.pbs.org/rootsinthesand/i_bhagat2.html
* http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/SSEAL/echoes/chapter10/chapter10.html
* [http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?navby=CASE&court=US&vol=261&page=204 Full text of case at Findlaw]
* [http://supreme.justia.com/us/261/204/case.html Full text of case] at Justia

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