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

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YICK WO v. HOPKINS 118 U.S. 356 (1886)

This is one of the basic decisions interpreting the equal protection of the laws clause of the fourteenth amendment. A San Francisco ordinance made criminal the conduct of a laundry business in any building not made of stone or brick, with such exceptions for wooden structures as administrative officials might make. Officials used their discretion in a grossly discriminatory manner, licensing about eighty wooden laundries run by Caucasians and denying licenses to about two hundred applicants of Chinese extraction. The Supreme Court unanimously held, in an opinion by Justice stanley matthews, that the ordinance, though racially neutral on its face, was applied so unequally and oppressively by public authorities as to deny equal protection. Thus the Court looked beyond the law's terms to its racially discriminatory administration and applied the benefits of the Fourteenth Amendment to Oriental aliens, that is, "to all persons … without regard to any difference of race, of color, or of nationality."

Leonard W. Levy