Oyama v. California

332 U.S. 633
Oyama v. California
Argued: October 22, 1947
Decided: January 19, 1948


Messrs. A. L. Wirin, of Los Angeles, Cal., and Dean G. Acheson, of Washington, D.C., for petitioners.

Messrs. Everett W. Mattoon, of Los Angeles, Cal., and Duane J. Carnes, of San Diego, Cal., for respondents.

[Argument of Counsel from page 634 intentionally omitted]

Mr. Chief Justice VINSON delivered the opinion of the Court.

Concurring Opinion

Mr. Justice BLACK, with whom Mr. Justice DOUGLAS agrees, concurring.

I concur in the Court’s judgment and its opinion. But I should prefer to reverse the judgment on the broader grounds that the basic provisions of the California Alien Land Law violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and conflict with federal laws and treaties governing the immigration of aliens and their rights after arrival in this country. The California law in actual effect singles out aliens of Japanese ancestry, requires the escheat of any real estate they own, and its language is broad enough to make it a criminal offense, punishable by imprisonment up to ten years, for them to acquire, enjoy, use, possess, cultivate, occupy, or transfer real property. [1] It would therefore appear to be a crime for an alien of Japanese ancestry to own a home in California, at least if the land around it is suitable for cultivation. [2] This is true although the statute does not name the Japanese as such, and although its terms also apply to a comparatively small number of aliens from other countries. That the effect and purpose of the law is to discriminate against Japanese because they are Japanese is too plain to call for more than a statement of that well-known fact.

We are told, however, that, despite the sweeping prohibition against Japanese ownership or occupancy, it is no violation of the law for a Japanese to work on land as a hired hand for American citizens or for foreign nationals permitted to own California lands. And a Japanese man or woman may also use or occupy land if acting only in the capacity of a servant. In other o rds, by this Alien Land Law California puts all Japanese aliens within its boundaries on the lowest possible economic level. And this Land Law has been followed by another which now bars Japanese from the fishing industry. Cal.Stats.1945, c. 181, p. 659; see Torao Takahashi v. Fish and Game Commission, Cal.Sup., 185 P.2d 805. If there is any one purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment that is wholly outside the realm of doubt, it is that the Amendment was designed to bar States from denying to some groups, on account of their race or color, any rights, privileges, and opportunities accorded to other groups. I would now overrule the previous decisions of this Court that sustained state land laws which discriminate against people of Japanese origin residing in this country. [3]

Congress has provided strict immigration tests and quotas. It has also enacted laws to regulate aliens after admission into the country. Other statutes provide for deportation of aliens. Although Japanese are not permitted to become citizens by the ordinary process of naturalization, still Congress permitted the admission of some Japanese into this country. All of this means that Congress, in the exercise of its exclusive power over immigration, Truax v. Raich, 239 U.S. 33, 42, 36 S.Ct. 7, 11, 60 L.Ed. 131, L.R.A.1916D, 545, Ann.Cas.1917B, 283, decided that certain Japanese, subject to federal laws, might come to and live in any one of the States of the Union. The Supreme Court of California has said that one purpose of that State’s Land Law is to ‘discourage the coming of Japanese into this state * * *.’ Estate of Yano, 188 Cal. 645, 658, 206 P. 995, 1001. California should not be permitted to erect obstacles designed to prevent the immigration of people whom Congress has authorized to come into and remain in the country. See Hines v. Davidowitz, 312 U.S. 52, 68, 61 S.Ct. 399, 404, 85 L.Ed. 581. There are additional reasons now why that law stands as an obstacle to the free accomplishment of our policy in the international field. One of these reasons is that we have recently pledged ourselves to cooperate with the United Nations to ‘promote * * * universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.’ [4] How can this nation be faithful to this international pledge if state laws which bar land ownership and occupancy by aliens on account of race are permitted to be enforced?


^1  Section 10a of the Alien Property Initiative Act provides: ‘Any person who violates any of the provisions of this act shall be punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not to exceed one year or in the State penitentiary not exceeding 10 years, or by a fine not to exceed five thousand dollars ($5,000) or both.’ Section 2 of the Act provides that aliens ineligible for citizenship ‘may acquire, possess, enjoy, use, cultivate, occupy and transfer real property, or any interest therein’ in California only to the extent allowed by treaty between the United States and the nation of which the alien is a citizen.

^2  The United States-Japanese Treaty of 1911, which guaranteed Japanese in this country the right to own and lease land ‘for residential and commercial purposes,’ 37 Stat. 1504, was abrogated effective January 26, 1940. Dept. of State Bull., July 29, 1939, p. 81. Since the abrogation of this treaty, it is doubtful whether Japanese aliens in California may own or rent a home or a business. We are told that a recent intermediate court decision upholding the right of Japanese aliens to rent a building for business purposes, Palermo v. Stockton Theatres, Cal.App., 1946, 172 P.2d 103, has been appealed to the Supreme Court of California.

^3  Terrace v. Thompson, 263 U.S. 197, 44 S.Ct. 15, 68 L.Ed. 255; Porterfield v. Webb, 263 U.S. 225, 44 S.Ct. 21, 68 L.Ed. 278; Webb v. O’Brien, 263 U.S. 313, 44 S.Ct. 112, 68 L.Ed. 318; Frick v. Webb, 263 U.S. 326, 44 S.Ct. 115, 68 L.Ed. 323.

^4  United Nations Charter, Articles 55c and 56, 59 Stat. 1046 (1945).

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