Yick Wo v. Hopkins

Yick Wo v. Hopkins

Litigants=Yick Wo v. Hopkins
Litigants2=Wo Lee v. Hopkins
SubmitDate=April 14
DecideDate=May 10
FullName=Yick Wo v. Hopkins, Sheriff
Citation=6 S. Ct. 1064; 30 L. Ed. 220; 1886 U.S. LEXIS 1938
Prior="In re Yick Wo", writ of habeas corpus denied, 9 P. 139 (Cal. 1885); "In re Wo Lee", writ of habeas corpus denied, 26 F. 471 (D. Cal. 1886)
Holding=Racially discriminatory application of a facially neutral statute violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Supreme Court of California and Circuit Court for the District of California reversed.
LawsApplied=U.S. Const. amend. XIV

"Yick Wo v. Hopkins" 118 U.S. 356 (1886)caselaw source
case="Yick Wo v. Hopkins", 118 U.S. 356 (1886)
] , was the first case where the United States Supreme Court ruled that a law that was race-neutral on its face that was administered in a prejudicial manner was an infringement of the Equal Protection Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.


In the 1880s, Chinese immigrants to California faced many legal and economic hurdles, including discriminatory provisions in the California constitution. As a result, they were excluded, either by law or by bias, from many professions. Many turned to the laundry business and in San Francisco about 89% of the laundry workers were of Chinese descent.

In 1880, the city of San Francisco passed an ordinance that persons could not operate a laundry in a wooden building without a permit from the Board of Supervisors. At the time, about 95% of the city's 320 laundries were in wooden buildings. Approximately two-thirds of those laundries were owned by Chinese persons. Although most of the city's wooden building laundry owners applied for a permit, none were granted to any Chinese owner, while only one non-Chinese owner was denied a permit.

Yick Wo (Americanization: Lee Yick), who had lived in California and had operated a laundry in a wooden building for many years, continued to operate his laundry and was convicted and fined $10.00 for violating the ordinance. He sued for a writ of habeas corpus when he refused to pay the fine and was imprisoned in default of the fine.

Issue before the Court

The state argued that the ordinance was strictly one out of concern for safety, as laundries of the day often needed very hot stoves to boil water for laundry, and indeed laundry fires were not unknown and often resulted in the destruction of adjoining buildings as well.

However, the petitioner pointed out that prior to the new ordinance, the inspection and approval of laundries in wooden building had been left up to fire wardens. Yick Wo's laundry had never failed an inspection for fire safety. Moreover, the application of the prior law focused only on laundries in crowded areas of the city, while the new law was being enforced on isolated wooden buildings as well. The law also ignored other wooden buildings where fires were common - even cooking stoves posed the same risk as those used for laundry.

Opinion of the Court

The Court, in a unanimous opinion written by Justice Matthews, noted that it was clear that the administration of the law was discriminatory even if the ordinance was not. Even though the Chinese laundry owners were usually not American citizens, the court ruled they were still entitled to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. He also noted that the court had previously ruled that it was acceptable to hold administrators of the law liable when they abused their authority. He denounced the law as a blatant attempt to exclude Chinese from the laundry trade in San Francisco, and the court struck down the law, ordering dismissal of all charges against other laundry owners who had been jailed.

"Yick Wo" had little application shortly after the decision. In fact, it was not long after that the Court developed the "separate but equal" doctrine in "Plessy v. Ferguson", 163 U.S. 537 (1896), in practice allowing discriminatory treatment of African Americans. "Yick Wo" was never applied at the time to Jim Crow laws which, although also racially neutral, were in practice discriminatory against blacks. However, by the 1950s, the Warren Court used the principle established in "Yick Wo" to strike down several attempts by states and municipalities in the deep south to limit the political rights of blacks. "Yick Wo" has been cited in well over 150 Supreme Court cases since it was decided.


In San Francisco there is a public school named Yick Wo Alternative Elementary School in honor of Yick Wo.

ee also

*Chinese American
*Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance
*List of United States Supreme Court cases, volume 118


External links

*Background [http://usinfo.state.gov/usa/infousa/facts/democrac/64.htm]
* Chin, Gabriel J. (2007), [http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1075563 "Unexplainable on Grounds of Race: Doubts About "Yick Wo] , Arizona Legal Studies Working Paper No. 30-07.

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Yick Wo Alternative Elementary School — is a public school located on San Francisco s Russian Hill near North Beach. It is just downhill the famous crooked street on Lombard.HistoryThe school was named after Yick Wo (Americanization: Lee Yick), a Chinese owner of a laundry who won a… …   Wikipedia

  • Yick Wo doctrine — Doctrine which takes its name from the case of Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356, 6 S.Ct. 1064, 30 L.Ed. 220, to the effect that a law or ordinance which gives a person or body of persons absolute discretion to give or withhold permission to carry …   Black's law dictionary

  • Chinese American history — is the history of Chinese Americans or the history of ethnic Chinese in the United States. Chinese immigration to the U.S. consisted of three major waves, with the first beginning in the 19th century. Chinese immigrants in the 19th century worked …   Wikipedia

  • Chinese immigration to the United States — consists of three major waves with the first beginning in the early 19th century. For nearly two centuries, the history of Chinese immigration to the United States has witnessed hardship as well as success.The Chinese have been arriving in large… …   Wikipedia

  • Murray v. Pearson — Pearson v. Murray was a Maryland Court of Appeals decision which found the state has undertaken the function of education in the law, but has omitted students of one race from the only adequate provision made for it, and omitted them solely… …   Wikipedia

  • Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution — United States of America …   Wikipedia

  • Equal Protection Clause — The Equal Protection Clause, part of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, provides that no state shall… deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. [… …   Wikipedia

  • Judicial aspects of race in the United States — Race legislation in the United States has known several historical phases. Its roots are to be found in the European colonization of the Americas, the Indian Wars, and the triangular slave trade. However, the 1776 Declaration of Independence… …   Wikipedia

  • Chinatowns in Canada and the United States — Chinatown Chinatowns in Africa Chinatowns in Asia Chinatowns in Europe Chinatowns in Latin America Chinatowns in the Middle East Chinatowns in Canada and the United States …   Wikipedia

  • Chinatown, Manhattan — Manhattan s Chinatown (simplified Chinese: 纽约华埠 ; traditional Chinese: 紐約華埠; pinyin: Niŭyuē Huá Bù), home to one of the highest concentrations of Chinese people in the Western hemisphere, is located in the borough of Manhattan in New York… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”