263 U.S. 197 (1923), 29, Terrace v. Thompson

Docket Nº:No. 29
Citation:263 U.S. 197, 44 S.Ct. 15, 68 L.Ed. 255
Party Name:Terrace v. Thompson
Case Date:November 12, 1923
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 197

263 U.S. 197 (1923)

44 S.Ct. 15, 68 L.Ed. 255




No. 29

United States Supreme Court

Nov. 12, 1923

Argued April 23, 24, 1923




1. A Washington statute (c. 50, Laws 1921,) disqualifies aliens who have not in good faith declared intention to become citizens of the United States from taking or holding interests in land in the State for farming or other purposes not excepted, and provides that upon the making of such prohibited conveyance the land shall be forfeited to the State and the grantors be subject to criminal punishment, and the alien also, if he fails to disclose the nature and extent of his interest. Citizens owning land in Washington and an alien Japanese, desirous of consummating a lease to the alien for farming, sued to enjoin the state attorney general from taking criminal and forfeiture proceedings, as he threatened

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if the lease were made, alleging that the restriction violated the federal and state constitutions and conflicted with a treaty with Japan.

Held, that the suit was within the equity jurisdiction of the District Court. P. 214.

2. State legislation withholding the right to own land in the State from aliens who have not in good faith declared their intention to become citizens of the United States does not transgress the due process or equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment as applied to those alien who, under the naturalization laws of Congress, are ineligible to citizenship, or as applied to citizens who desire to lease their land to such aliens. P. 216. Truax v. Raich, 239 U.S. 33, distinguished.

3. The treaty between the United State and Japan of February 21, 1911, 37 Stat. 1504, in granting liberty to the citizens and subjects of each party

to enter, travel and reside in the territories of the other, to carry on trade, . . . to own or lease and occupy houses, manufactories, warehouses and shops, . . . to lease land for residential and commercial purposes, and generally to do anything incident to or necessary for trade upon the same terms as native citizens or subjects,

does not include the right to own, lease, or have any title to or interest in land for agricultural purposes, and the Washington statute above cited is not in conflict with it. P. 222.

4. As determined by the Supreme Court of the State, the Washington statute above cited is not in conflict with § 33, Art. II of the state constitution. P. 224.

274 F. 841 affirmed.

Appeal from a decree of the District Court dismissing a bill brought by the appellants to enjoin the attorney general of Washington from enforcing the state Alien Land Law.

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BUTLER, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BUTLER delivered the opinion of the Court.

Appellants brought this suit to enjoin the Attorney General of Washington from enforcing the Anti-Alien Land Law of that State (chapter 50, Laws 1921), on the grounds that it is in conflict with the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, with the treaty between the United States and Japan, and with certain provisions of the Constitution of the State.

The appellants are residents of Washington. The Terraces are citizens of the United States and of Washington. Nakatsuka was born in Japan of Japanese parents, and is a subject of the emperor of Japan. The Terraces are the owners of a tract of land in King county which is particularly adapted to raising vegetables, and which, for a number of years, had been devoted to that and other agricultural purposes. The complaint alleges that Nakatsuka is a capable farmer, and will be a desirable tenant of the land, that the Terraces desire to lease their land to him for the period of five years, that he desires to accept such lease, and that the lease would be made but

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for the act complained of; and it is alleged that the defendant, as Attorney General, has threatened to and will take steps to enforce the act against the appellants if they enter into such lease, and will treat the leasehold interest as forfeited to the State, and will prosecute the appellants criminally for violation of the act; that the act is so drastic and the penalties attached to its violation are so great that neither of the appellants may make the lease even to test the constitutionality of the act; and that, unless the court shall determine its validity in this suit, the appellants will be compelled to submit to it, whether valid or invalid, and thereby will be deprived of their property without due process of law and denied the equal protection of the laws.

The Attorney General made a motion to dismiss the amended complaint upon the ground that it did not state any matters of equity or facts sufficient to entitle the appellants to relief. The District Court granted the motion and entered a decree of dismissal on the merits. The case is here on appeal from that decree.

Section 331 of Article II of the Constitution of Washington prohibits the ownership of land by aliens other than those who in good faith have declared intention to become citizens of the United States, except in certain

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instances not here involved. The act2 provides in substance that any such alien shall not own, take, have or hold the legal or equitable title, or right to any benefit of any land as defined in the act, and that land conveyed to or for the use of aliens in violation of the state constitution or of the act shall thereby be forfeited to the State, and it is made a gross misdemeanor, punishable by fine or imprisonment or both, knowingly to transfer land or the right to the control, possession or use of land to such an alien. It is also made a gross misdemeanor for any such alien having title to such land or the control, possession, or use thereof, to refuse to disclose to the Attorney General or the prosecuting attorney the nature and extent of his interest in the land. The Attorney General and the prosecuting attorneys of the several counties are charged with the enforcement of the act.

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1. The Attorney General questions the jurisdiction of the court to grant equitable relief even if the statute be unconstitutional. He contends that the appellants have a plain, adequate and speedy remedy at law; that the case involves but a single transaction, and that, if the proposed lease is made, the only remedy which the State has, so far as civil proceedings are concerned, is an escheat proceeding in which the validity of the law complained of may be finally determined; that an acquittal of the Terraces of the criminal offense created by the statute would protect them from further prosecution, and that Nakatsuka is liable criminally only upon his failure to disclose the fact that he holds an interest in the land.

The unconstitutionality of a state law is not of itself ground for equitable relief in the courts of the United States. That a suit in equity does not lie where there is a plain adequate and complete remedy at law is so well understood as not to require the citation of authorities. But the legal remedy must be as complete, practical and efficient as that which equity could afford. Boise Artesian Water Co. v. Boise City, 213 U.S. 276, 281; Walla Walla v. Walla Walla Water Co., 172 U.S. 1, 11-12. Equity jurisdiction will be exercised to enjoin the threatened enforcement of a state law which contravenes the federal Constitution wherever it is essential in order effectually to protect property rights and the rights of persons against injuries otherwise irremediable, and, in such a case, a person who is an officer of the State is clothed with the duty of enforcing...

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