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Yick Wo v. Hopkins Background

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1 Yick Wo v. Hopkins Background
Retrieved 3/9/09 Background: 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.

2 Background 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. The ordinance conferred upon the Board of Supervisors the arbitrary discretion to grant or withhold the permits. At the time, about 95% of the city's 320 laundries were operated 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 out of approximately eighty non-Chinese applicants was denied a permit.

3 Background Yick Wo (Americanization: Lee Yick), who had lived in California and had operated a laundry in the same wooden building for many years and held a valid license to operate his laundry issued by the Board of Fire-Wardens, continued to operate his laundry and was convicted and fined $10.00 for violating the ordinance. He sued for a writ of habeas corpus after he was imprisoned in default for having refused to pay the fine.

4 Issue argued 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

5 Issue Argued However, the petitioner pointed out that prior to the new ordinance, the inspection and approval of laundries in wooden buildings 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 laundries.

6 Assignment Your group’s job will be to take on the perspective of people from the Yick Wo v. Hopkins case. Make sure that you circle the group you’re assigned so you don’t forget. Chinese laundry owners Chinese miners White labor San Francisco City Government Mifflin Gibbs (from Hurry Freedom)

7 Assignment You will have two responsibilities:
Write an amicus (friend of the court) brief. Make sure to write from the point of view of your assigned group. The topic in this case is: does the law violate the 14th Amendment? You will have to use previous legal cases, or precedents, in arguing your point of view. Present oral arguments to the class based on your brief. You will find out what actually happened with the case after the oral arguments

8 Amicus Curiae One (as a professional person or organization) that is not a party to a particular litigation but that is permitted by the court to advise it in respect to some matter of law that directly affects the case in question

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