A facially impartial law, applied with an evil eye and unequal hand, may deny Constitutional protections due to the denial of equal justice in the form of equal protection of equal laws.
Natives of China operated laundry businesses in California. They complied with every requirement necessary to protect neighboring property from fire and took precautions against injury to the public health, yet were still found to have violated the city ordinances and were fined. After they were in default for the payment of these fines, they were imprisoned until the fines could be paid. Writs of habeas corpus challenged the city ordinance and their imprisonment for default of payment of fines for violating the city ordinance. They contended that the ordinances were void being discriminatory against Chinese laundry businesses and in violation of equal protection. The trial court denied the writs of habeas corpus.
Should the writs of habeas corpus be granted?
The Court held there was discrimination and that the discrimination was illegal for promoting hostility to a race and nationality. Thus, the public administration that enforced it denied their equal protection. As a result, the imprisonment was also illegal. The discrimination against nationality was in violation of equal protection when petitioners met all other safety requirements to operate their laundry services.