Power of the State to Exclude Foreigners from its Limits, and to Prevent Their Landing, on Account of the Immorality of Their Past Lives, Considered. Opinion of Mr. Justice Field, of U.S. Supreme Court…In the case of Ah Fong, a Chinese Woman…

U.S. District Court of California legal case in the run up to the Page Act of 1875 excluding Chinese women immigrants


In the matter of Ah Fong, a Chinese woman immigrant, an 1874 opinion for the U.S. District Court of California. The opinion was written by Associate Justice Stephen J. Field of the U.S. Supreme Court. Field here rules against the California commissioner of immigration and in favor of Chinese women immigrants. These women as a group had been unfairly tarred with the broad accusation of being prostitutes.

The following year, however, the point became moot. Congress passed the Page Act of 1875 which effectively excluded Chinese women immigrants, the United States’ first law restricting immigration. “In In re Ah Fong, Field recognized that discrimination against Chinese prostitutes, while promoting an arguably legitimate goal, both infringed upon federal treaty power and was excessively underinclusive by not targeting all prostitution.”¹

Here, in Power of the State to Exclude Foreigners Justice Field writes:

I am aware of the very general feeling prevailing in this state against the Chinese, and in opposition to the extension of any encouragement to their immigration hither. It is felt that the dissimilarity in physical characteristics, in language, in manners, religion and habits, will always prevent any possible assimilation of them with our people. Admitting that there is ground for this feeling, it does not justify any legislation for their exclusion, which might not be adopted against the inhabitants of the most favored nations of the Caucasian race, and of Christian faith. If their further immigration is to be stopped, recourse must be had to the federal government, where the whole power over this subject lies. (p17)

Justice Field is most noted for having subsequently written the majority opinion in Chae Chan Ping v. United States (1889), the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision upholding the Chinese Exclusion Act passed by Congress in 1882, a federal law which prohibited all immigration of Chinese laborers.


Description: Power of the State to Exclude Foreigners from its Limits, and to Prevent Their Landing, on Account of the Immorality of Their Past Lives, Considered. Opinion of Mr. Justice Field, of U.S. Supreme Court…In the case of Ah Fong, a Chinese Woman…

San Francisco: Edward Bosqui & Company, Printers, 1874. 22pp. First Edition. 8vo. Printed wrappers; stitched. Minor toning to wrappers; brief handling, some creasing, near fine.

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Note. 1. Romero, “Elusive Equality: Reflections on Justice Field’s Opinions in Chae Chan Ping and Fong Yue Ting” in Oklahoma Law Review, Vol. 68:165, p172. OCLC, [10]cc.


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