Truax v. Raich 1915

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Truax v. Raich 1915

Appellants: William Truax, Sr., Wiley E. Jones, W.G. Gilmore

Appellee: Mike Raich

Appellants' Claim: That an alien had no legal right to sue the state of Arizona or prevent enforcement of Arizona's Anti Alien Act.

Chief Lawyers for Appellants: Wiley E. Jones, Leslie C. Hardy, George W. Harben

Chief Lawyers for Appellee: Alexander Britton, Evans Browne, Francis W. Clements

Justices for the Court: Louis D. Brandeis, William Rufus Day, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Charles E. Hughes, Joseph McKenna, Mahlon Pitney, Willis Van Devanter, Edward D. White

Justices Dissenting: James C. McReynolds

Date of Decision: November 1, 1915

Decision: Ruled in favor of Raich by finding that Arizona's law denied him his Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection of the laws and was therefore unconstitutional and unenforceable.

Significance: By declaring Arizona's law unconstitutional, the Supreme Court identified the right to earn a living as a basic freedom protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. The decision reaffirmed the Yick Wo decision that the Equal Protection Clause applied to any person, citizen or alien, living within the United States and that only the U.S. Congress could enact immigration law.

Between 1870 and 1920, twenty-six million people arrived at immigration stations in New York City. Ships as far as the eye could see would be lined up for days in New York Harbor until a space to dock opened at the immigrant processing center on Ellis Island. After leaving Ellis Island many headed for New York but others bought tickets for Chicago, Cleveland, St. Louis, and other cities throughout the United States. All were searching for jobs and a new better life in America.

Equal Protection for Immigrants

Only the U.S. Congress has the authority to determine who may enter the United States. Once an immigrant is admitted to the United States, he or she is entitled to equal protection of the law. The Equal Protection Clause is found in the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and provides that no state shall "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law [fair legal proceedings]; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction [geographical area over which a government has authority] the equal protection of the laws." Equal protection means that persons or groups of persons in similar situations must be treated equally by the laws.

Extension of equal protection to new immigrants or aliens (citizen or subject of a foreign country living in the United States) was firmly established in the Supreme Court case Yick Wo v. Hopkins (1886). The Court ruled that Equal Protection Clause applied "to all persons within the territorial jurisdiction, without regard to any differences of race, of color, or of nationality [referring to country where a person was born]." Beginning with Yick Wo the Court generally required states to show a very important reason or need for any law which applied one way to aliens and a different way to citizens. If no important reason was shown, the law would be found unconstitutional.

Also, in Yick Wo the Court described a person's right to earn a living as "essential to the enjoyment of life" and protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. Thirty years later the Court again showed support for the Yick Wo decision in the 1915 case of Truax v. Raich.

Mike Raich and Arizona's Anti-Alien Employment Act

In December of 1914 Mike Raich, an Austrian native living in Arizona, was in danger of losing his job as a restaurant cook. A state-wide vote by Arizona citizens had led to the adoption of "an Act to Protect the Citizens of the United States in Their Employment Against Noncitizens of the United States, in Arizona, and to Provide Penalties and Punishment for the Violation Thereof." Shortened to the Anti-Alien Employment Act, the act required all businesses with five or more employees to hire a workforce at least 80 percent native-born American. Penalties subjected violators to not less than a $100 fine and thirty days imprisonment.

Restaurant owner, William Truax, Sr., had nine employees, including Raich. Seven of them were not native-born Americans. Fearing the penalties, Truax informed Raich that he would be fired as soon as the Anti-Alien Act became law. His firing would happen solely because he was an alien.

On December 15, 1914 the act was signed into law. A day later Raich filed a suit in Arizona's U.S. District Court against Arizona Attorney General Wiley E. Jones, Cochise County Attorney W.G. Gilmore, and Truax. Raich charged the act denied his Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection under the law. The court issued a temporary order preventing Truax from firing Raich.

Gilmore, Jones, and Truax asked for dismissal of Raich's suit against them. But on January 7, 1915 a federal district court in San Francisco ruled Arizona's Anti Alien Act unconstitutional and, therefore, unenforceable. Gilmore, Jones, and Truax appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court which agreed to hear the case.

A Direct Violation

Justice Charles Evans Hughes, writing for the majority in an 8–1 decision, focused on whether or not the act violated the Fourteenth Amendment. Hughes explained that Raich, being a lawful inhabitant of Arizona, was "entitled under the Fourteenth Amendment to the equal protection of its laws." Furthermore, referring to the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment and quoting from the Yick Wo v. Hopkins ruling, Hughes wrote,

The description, 'any person within its jurisdiction,' as it has frequently been held, includes aliens. 'These provisions [clauses] . . . are universal in their application, to all persons within the territorial jurisdiction, without regard to any differences of race, of color, or of nationality; and the equal protection of the laws is a pledge of the protection of equal laws.

Hughes noted that the Arizona act plainly described its purpose in its lengthy title, "an act to protect the citizens of the United States in their employment against noncitizens [aliens] of the United States, in Arizona." The act clearly separated citizens and aliens into two groups and applied the law differently to each. Raich was forced out of his job "as a cook in a restaurant, simply because he is an alien." The firing directly violated the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protections which extend to aliens.

Clearly, Hughes stated, "It requires no argument to show that the right to work for a living in the common occupations of the community is of the very essence of the personal freedom and opportunity that it was the purpose of the [Fourteenth] Amendment to secure. If this could be refused solely upon the ground of race or nationality, the [Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of] equal protection of the laws would be a barren form of words [meaningless]."

Hughes continued that a person "cannot live where they cannot work" because work is essential to their livelihood. Therefore, the act was also invalid because it dictated where aliens may or may not live by denying them opportunities to work in the state of Arizona. Only Congress, not states, may regulate where aliens may live and enact immigration law.

A See Saw Court

The Truax ruling had a rocky road ahead as suspicions and prejudice against immigrants grew during and after World War I. In 1927 the Court appeared to abandon its 1915 Truax decision in the Clarke v. Deckebach ruling. While the Court still prohibited "plainly irrational discrimination against aliens," the Court ruled that some instances could occur when a state would have a good reason to deny rights to aliens. In Clarke, the Court allowed Cincinnati to prohibit aliens from operating pool halls because the aliens might operate them in an unacceptable manner.

Approximately twenty years later in Takaahashi v. Fish and Game Commission (1948) the Court returned to its position that earning a living was a liberty that could not be denied an individual just because he was an alien. Supporting aliens' rights further in 1971, Graham v. Richardson signaled that equal protection cases involving aliens would be subjected to the same thorough review that racial discrimination cases receive.

However, the Court has viewed some occupations as requiring that employees be citizens. In Ambach v. Norwick (1979) the Court, in a 5-4 decision, upheld a New York law prohibiting aliens who refused to apply for U.S. citizenship from teaching in public schools. Likewise, in Cabell v. Chavez (1982), another 5-4 Court decision upheld a California requirement that all law enforcement personnel be U.S. citizens.


P ersons granted legal immigrant status intend to live and work in the United States and become U.S. citizens. A common concern among the U.S. public is that these newly arrived immigrants are taking jobs away from existing U.S. citizens. However, by the end of the twentieth century many studies such as those by the Rand Corporation, the Council of Economic Advisors, the National Research Council, and the Urban Institute concluded that immigrants do not have a negative effect on earnings or the employment opportunities of native-born Americans. In fact, immigrants create more jobs than they fill. The studies show that immigrants are more likely to be self-employed than native Americans and start new businesses. Eighteen percent of new small businesses, which account for 80 percent of new jobs available each year in the United States, are started by immigrants. Immigrants also raise the productivity of already established businesses, invest capital (money) in businesses, and spend dollars on consumer goods. Therefore, there is a strong argument that immigrants are good for the U.S. job market and all Americans benefit from their arrival.

Suggestions for further reading

American Civil Liberties Union. [Online] Website: (Accessed July 31, 2000).

American Immigration Lawyers Association. [Online] Website: (Accessed July 31, 2000).

Fiss, Owen M. A Community of Equals: The Constitutional Protection of New Americans. Boston: Beacon Press, 1999.

U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. [Online] Website: (Accessed July 31, 2000).