Law School Case Brief
The Chinese Exclusion Case - 130 U.S. 581, 9 S. Ct. 623 (1889)
By the Constitution, laws made in pursuance thereof and treaties made under the authority of the United States are both declared to be the supreme law of the land, and no paramount authority is given to one over the other. A treaty is in its nature a contract between nations and is often merely promissory in its character, requiring legislation to carry its stipulations into effect. Such legislation will be open to future repeal or amendment. If the treaty operates by its own force, and relates to a subject within the power of Congress, it can be deemed in that particular only the equivalent of a legislative act, to be repealed or modified at the pleasure of Congress. In either case the last expression of the sovereign will must control.
A Chinese laborer was denied entry into the United States. The United States denied entry under an act that was a supplement to an act titled "an act to execute certain treaty stipulations relating to Chinese." The Chinese national challenged the refusal to grant entry because treaties existed between China and the United States that allowed entry. The Circuit Court held that the Chinese national was not entitled to enter the United States and that he was not restrained of his liberty. The laborer sought further review in the United States Supreme Court.
Was the Chinese national restrained from his liberty?
The Court affirmed the denial of entry because the government of the United States, as a part of the sovereign powers delegated by the Constitution, had the right to exclude Chinese laborers. The United States Supreme Court reviewed the general character of the treaties and the legislation of Congress to carry them into existence. The Court examined the limitation to immigration of certain classes from China and the necessity to preserve civilization. The Court held that treaties were of no greater legal obligation than the act of Congress.
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