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Law School Case Brief

Jew Ho v. Williamson - 103 F. 10, 1900 U.S. App. LEXIS 3847


Personal libety of the citizen and his rights of property cannot be invaded under the disguise of a police regulation. However, the power of the courts to declare invalid what they may deem an unreasonable legislative regulation of a business or occupation which the citizen has the constitutional ritht to follow, although undoubted, must, from the nature of the power, be exercised with the utmost caution, and only when it is clear that the ordinance or law so declared void passes entirely beyond the limits which bound the police power, and infringes upon rights secured by the fundamental law.


Due to the number of deaths caused by bubonic plague, the City of San Francisco passed an Ordinance that putting the districts bounded by Broadway, Stockton, California, and Kearney streets under quarantine. For this reason, people outside the boundaries of the quarantined district could not travel and go inside the quarantined district, and vice-versa. Complainant Jew Ho, who was a resident of No. 926 Stockton street within the limits of said quarantined district, was engaged in the business of conducting a grocery store. He alleged that because of the Ordinance, he was prevented from carrying on his business, and his patrons were prevented from dealing with him. According to Jew Ho, the Ordinance was only enforced against persons of Chinese race and nationality only, and not against persons of other races. He further alleged that there has never been a case of bubonic plague within their locality, as such, the action of the defendants in confining and imprisoning him and other Chinese residents was a “purely arbitrary, unreasonable, unwarranted, wrongful, and oppressive interference with their personal liberty.” Jew Ho prayed that an injunction be granted, enjoining and restraining the defendants from interfering with the personal rights and privileges of the complainant.


Under the circumstances, was the quarantine in question an unreasonable interference to complainant’s personal liberty?




The Court held that under the circumstances, the general quarantine of the whole district cannot be continued, by reason of the fact that it was unreasonable, unjust, and oppressive, and therefore contrary to the laws limiting the police powers of the state and municipality in such matters. According to the Court, limiting the liberty of the entire district was not a reasonable regulation to accomplish the purposes sought. Moreover, the Court averred that such quarantine was discriminating in its character, as it discriminated against the Chinese population of the city; hence, the same was contrary to the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. An injunction was thus issued; however, the board was still allowed to maintain a quarantine around places that were infected by the disease.

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