Accessibility/Mobile Features
Skip Navigation
Skip to Content
Editorial News
Business
Classified Sites

The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

California law students trying to right an old wrong, license Chinese attorney denied chance

This undated family photo shows Hong Yeng Chang. Chang was an Ivy League graduate thought to be the first Chinese-born, United States-trained lawyer when the California Supreme Court denied his application to practice law in a 1890 decision. Now, students at a Northern California law school hope to persuade the current court to reverse the 124-year-old decision that is still studied in law schools. (AP Photo/Chang Family)

Enlarge Image

This undated family photo shows Hong Yeng Chang. Chang was an Ivy League graduate thought to be the first Chinese-born, United States-trained lawyer when the California Supreme Court denied his application to practice law in a 1890 decision. Now, students at a Northern California law school hope to persuade the current court to reverse the 124-year-old decision that is still studied in law schools. (AP Photo/Chang Family)

SAN FRANCISCO - In a decision still studied in law schools as a 19th century lesson in bigotry, the California Supreme Court in 1890 denied Hong Yen Chang's application to practice law solely because he was Chinese.

Now, students at a Northern California law school are working to right that wrong. They hope to persuade the current court to reverse its 124-year-old decision.

Students at the University of California, Davis, School of Law's Asian Pacific American Law Students Association and two professors have submitted an application to practice law to the State Bar of California on behalf of Chang. It is a first step before approaching the high court, which licenses California's attorneys.

The state bar vets all California applications and recommends approval or denial to the California Supreme Court. The Supreme Court usually follows the recommendation of the state bar.

"This is a unique situation and we don't know what the Committee of Bar Examiners will do with the application," spokeswoman Laura Ernde said. The committee is scheduled to consider the application in late June.

Approving Chang's application would correct a personal injustice and serve a broader public interest purpose, the students and professors wrote the state bar.

"Admitting Mr. Chang would be a powerful symbol of our state's repudiation of laws that singled out Chinese immigrants for discrimination," said Gabriel "Jack" Chin, a professor at UC Davis School of Law and the student association's adviser.

Chang studied at Yale University and Columbia Law School, graduating from Columbia in 1886. After initially being denied a chance to take New York's bar exam, a special act of the state Legislature enabled him to sit for the test and pass. The New York Times reported at the time that Chang was the first Chinese immigrant to become an American lawyer.

In 1890, he moved to California with plans to practice law and represent the burgeoning Chinese population in San Francisco. But the California Supreme Court turned down Chang's application, citing the federal Chinese Exclusion Act — which barred Chinese natives from obtaining U.S. citizenship — and a California law prohibiting noncitizens from practicing law.

"It's a pretty notorious decision," Chin said.

Chin said that Chang's case is well-known in legal circles interested in combatting discrimination. He also said the project is a good lesson for the Asian Pacific American Law Students.

"Every student can put themselves in his position," Chin said.

Chin said there is no precedent in California for awarding a posthumous law license, but at least two other states have granted similar applications. In 2010, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court admitted George Vashon to the practice of law. The same court denied Vashon's application in 1847 because he was black. In 2001, the state of Washington Supreme Court admitted Takuji Yamashita after he was denied a license in 1902 because of his Japanese ancestry.

In addition, Chin said granting Chang a posthumous license would be in line with lawmakers formally undoing the anti-Chinese and anti-Asian laws and apologizing for the discrimination. Congress repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1943 and both chambers have recently apologized for the exclusion act and other discriminatory laws. The California Supreme Court in 1972 allowed noncitizens to become lawyers in the state.

Chang went on to have a distinguished career in banking and diplomacy.

Chin has made a career of working with law school students to redress past injustices. When he taught at the University of Cincinnati, for instance, he and his students discovered that Ohio was the only state not to ratify the 14th Amendment, which gave blacks citizenship and allowed them to vote. Ohio lawmakers ratified the amendment in 2003.

  • Rate this Rate This Star Icon
  • This article has not yet been rated.
  • We want you to tell us what you think of our articles. If the story moves you, compels you to act or tells you something you didn’t know, mark it high. If you thought it was well written, do the same. If it doesn’t meet your standards, mark it accordingly.

    You can also register and/or login to the site and join the conversation by leaving a comment.

    Rate it yourself by rolling over the stars and clicking when you reach your desired rating. We want you to tell us what you think of our articles. If the story moves you, compels you to act or tells you something you didn’t know, mark it high.

Sort by: Newest to Oldest | Oldest to Newest | Most Popular 0 Commentscomment icon

You can comment on most stories on brandonsun.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is register and/or login and you can join the conversation and give your feedback.

There are no comments at the moment. Be the first to post a comment below.

Post Your Commentcomment icon

Comment
  • You have characters left

The Brandon Sun does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. Comments are moderated before publication. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

Brandon Sun Business Directory
Sudden Surge: Flood of 2014
Opportunity Magazine — The Bakken
Why Not Minot?
Welcome to Winnipeg

Social Media

Canadian Mortgage Rates