118 U.S. 356 (1886), Yick Wo v. Hopkins

Citation:118 U.S. 356, 6 S.Ct. 1064, 30 L.Ed. 220
Party Name:YICK WO v. HOPKINS, Sheriff, etc. [1] (In Error to the Supreme Court of the State of California.) WO LEE v. SAME. (Appeal from the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of California.)
Case Date:May 10, 1886
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 356

118 U.S. 356 (1886)

6 S.Ct. 1064, 30 L.Ed. 220

YICK WO

v.

HOPKINS, Sheriff, etc. 1 (In Error to the Supreme Court of the State of California.)

WO LEE

v.

SAME. (Appeal from the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of California.)

United States Supreme Court.

May 10, 1886

[6 S.Ct. 1065] These two cases were argued as one, and depend upon precisely the same state of facts; the first coming here upon a writ of error to the supreme court of the state of California, the second on appeal from the circuit court of the United States for that district.

The plaintiff in error, Yick Wo, on August 24, 1885, petitioned the supreme court of California for the writ of habeas corpus, alleging that he was illegally deprived of his personal liberty by the defendant as sheriff of the city and county of San Francisco. The sheriff made return to the writ that he held the petitioner in custody by virtue of a sentence of the police judge's court No. 2 of the city and county of San Francisco, whereby he was found guilty of a violation of certain ordinances of the board of supervisors of that county, and adjudged to pay a fine of $10, and, in default of payment, be imprisoned in the county jail at the rate of one day for each dollar of fine until said fine should be satisfied; and a commitment in consequence of non-payment of said fine.

The ordinances for the violation of which he had been found guilty are set out as follows:

Order No. 1,569, passed May 26, 1880, prescribing the kind of buildings in which laundries may be located.

'The people of the city and county of San Francisco do ordain as follows:

'Section 1. It shall be unlawful, from and after the passage of this order, for any person or persons to establish, maintain, or carry on a laundry, within the corporate limits of the city and county of San Francisco, without having first obtained the consent of the board of supervisors, except the same be located in a building constructed either of brick or stone.

'Sec. 2. It shall be unlawful for any person to erect, build, or maintain, or cause to be erected, built, or maintained, over or upon the roof of any building now erected, or which may hereafter be erected, within the limits of said city and county, any scaffolding, without first obtaining the written permission of the board of supervisors, which permit shall state fully for what purpose said scaffolding is to be erected and used, and such scaffolding shall not be used for any other purpose than that designated in such permit.

'Sec. 3. Any person who shall violate any of the provisions of this order shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof shall be punished by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars, or by imprisonment in the county jail not more than six months, or by both such fine and imprisonment.'

Order No. 1,587, passed July 28, 1880, the following section:

'Sec. 68. It shall be unlawful, from and after the passage of this order, for any person or persons to establish, maintain, or carry on a laundry within the corporate limits of the city and county of San Francisco without having first obtained the consent of the board of supervisors, except the same be located in a building constructed either of brick or stone'

The following facts are also admitted on the record: That petitioner is a native of China, and came to California in 1861, and is still a subject of the emperor of China; that he has been engaged in the laundry business in the same premises and building for 22 years last past; that he had a license from the board of fire-wardens, dated March 3, 1884, from which it appeared 'that the above-described premises have been inspected by the board of fire-wardens, and upon such inspection said board found all proper arrangements for carrying on the business; that the stoves, washing and drying apparatus, and the appliances for heating smoothing-irons, are in good condition, and that [6 S.Ct. 1066] their use is not dangerous to the surrounding property from fire, and that all proper precautions have been taken to comply with the provisions of order No. 1,617, defining 'the fire limits of the city and county of San Francisco, and making regulations concerning the erection and use of buildings in said city and county,' and of order No. 1,670, 'prohibiting the kindling, maintenance, and use of open fires in houses;' that he had a certificate from the health officer that the same premises had been inspected by him, and that he found that they were properly and sufficiently drained, and that all proper arrangements for carrying on the business of a laundry, without injury to the sanitary condition of the neighborhood, had been complied with; that the city license of the petitioner was in force, and expired October 1, 1885; and that the petitioner applied to the board of supervisors, June 1, 1885, for consent of said board to maintain and carry on his laundry, but that said board, on July 1, 1885, refused said consent.' It is also admitted to be true, as alleged in the petition, that on February 24, 1880, 'there were about 320 laundries in the city and county of San Francisco, of which about 240 were owned and conducted by subjects of China, and of the whole number, viz., 320, about 310 were constructed of wood, the same material that constitutes ninetenths of the houses in the city of San Francisco. The capital thus invested by the subjects of China was not less than two hundred thousand dollars, and they paid annually for rent, license, taxes, gas, and water about one hundred and eighty thousand dollars.' It is alleged in the petition that 'your petitioner, and more than one hundred and fifty of his countrymen, have been arrested upon the charge of carrying on business without having such special consent, while those who are not subjects of China, and who ar conducting eighty odd laundries under similar conditions, are left unmolested, and free to enjoy the enhanced trade and profits arising from this hurtful and unfair discrimination. The business of your petitioners, and of those of his countrymen similarly situated, is greatly impaired, and in many cases practically ruined, by this system of oppression to one kind of men, and favoritism to all others.'

The statement therein contained as to the arrest, etc., is admitted to be true, with the qualification only that the 80-odd laundries referred to are in wooden buildings without scaffolds on the roofs. It is also admitted 'that petitioner and 200 of his countrymen similarly situated petitioned the board of supervisors for permission to continue their business in the various houses which they had been occupying and using for laundries for more than twenty years, and such petitions were denied, and all the petitions of those who were not Chinese, with one exception of Mrs. Mary Meagles, were granted.'

By section 11 of article 11 of the constitution of California it is provided that 'any county, city, town, or township may make and enforce within its limits all such local, police, sanitary, and other regulations as are not in conflict with general laws.' By section 74 of the act of April 19, 1856, usually known as the 'Consolidation Act,' the board of supervisors is empowered, among other things, 'to provide by regulation for the prevention and summary removal of nuisances to public health, the prevention of contagious diseases; * * * to prohibit the erection of wooden buildings within any fixed limits where the streets shall have been established and graded; * * * to regulate the sale, storage, and use of gunpowder, or other explosive or combustible materials and substances, and make all needful regulations for protection against fire; to make such regulations concerning the erection and use of buildings as may be necessary for the safety of the inhabitants.'

The supreme court of California, in the opinion pronouncing the judgment in this case, said: 'The board of supervisors, under the several statutes conferring authority upon them, has the power to prohibit or regulate all occupations which are against good morals, contrary to public order and decency, or dangerous to the public safety. Clothes-washing is certainly not opposed [6 S.Ct. 1067] to good morals, or subversive of public order or decency, but when conducted in given localities it may be highly dangerous to the public safety. Of this fact the supervisors are made the judges, and, having taken action in the premises, we do not find that they have prohibited the establishment of laundries, but they have, as they well might do, regulated the places at which they should be established, the character of the buildings in which they are to be maintained, etc. The process of washing is not prohibited by thus regulating the places at which and the surroundings by which it must be exercised. The order No. 1,569 and section 68 of order No. 1,587 are not in contravention of common right, or unjust, unequal, partial, or oppressive, in such sense as authorizes us in this proceeding to pronounce them invalid.' After answering the position taken in behalf of the petitioner, that the ordinances in question had been repealed, the court adds: 'We have not deemed it necessary to discuss the question in the light of supposed infringement of petitioner's rights under the constitution of the United States, for the reason that we think the principles upon which contention on that head can be based have in effect been set at rest by the cases of Barbier v. Connolly, 113 U.S. 27, S. C. 5 S.Ct. 357, and Soon Hing v. Crowley, 113 U.S. 703, S. C. 5 S.Ct. 730.' The writ was accordingly discharged, and the prisoner remanded.

In the other case, the appellant, Wo Lee, petitioned for his discharge from an alleged illegal imprisonment, upon a state of facts, shown upon the record, precisely similar to that in the Case of Yick Wo. In disposing of the...

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