Asakura v. Seattle

122 Wash. 81, 210 P. 30 (1922)



A city may not only regulate, but suppress, pawnbrokers, or refuse to license such occupation altogether. No person has the right to follow such occupation within the limits of said city without first obtaining a license from its authorities for that purpose, which may be granted or withheld at pleasure. The business is a privilege, not a right, and he who avails himself of it and derives its benefits must bear its burdens and conform to the laws in force regulating the occupation, if not illegal.  


An ordinance was enacted by the proper city authorities providing for the licensing and regulating of the business of pawnbroking. One of the sections of the ordinance provided that no one shall engage in pawnbroking without a license. Another section specified "that no such license shall be granted unless the applicant be a citizen of the United States".  Respondent's complaint alleged that he is a Japanese subject, has resided in Seattle for six years prior to the enactment of the ordinance and that, during such time, he has been a pawnbroker. Thus, he alleged that the ordinance hereinabove referred to is invalid as being in violation of the state constitution and in conflict with the treaty between the governments of the United States and Japan.  A decree was entered in conformity with the prayer of respondent's complaint, from which the city has appealed.  


Does one have an inherent right to engage in pawnbroking? 




The Court held that one does not have an inherent right to engage in pawnbroking, that is, it was a privilege under a rule that provided that businesses that could affect the health, morals or welfare of the public were subject to the city's police power. Such businesses, like pawnbroking, were properly subject to restrictions. According to the Court, a regulation that restricted such licenses to United States citizens was reasonable in light of the city's interest in limiting the activity to persons that could reasonably be supposed to have a full sense of responsibility to the country. As such, the Court ruled that the ordinance did not interfere with the treaty, which provided that Japanese citizens in the United States had the right to "carry on trade." To conclude, the Court posited that the authority to engage in pawnbroking was a privilege, not a right.

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