Monday, March 16, 2015
California Supreme Court Seeks to Right a Historic Wrong of Bar Applicant Denied Admission Because He was Chinese
ImmigrationProf has kept our readers up to date on the efforts of UC Davis law students to seek the posthumous admission of Hong Yen Chang to the California State Bar. More than a century ago, Chang was denied the opportunity to practice law in California because of his race. Professor Jack Chin, a leading civil rights law professor, has been working on the case with the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association students and the law firm of Munger Tolles & Olson LLP.
The California Supreme Court today issued its opinion in In Re Hong Yen Chang. The first line says it all: "We grant Hong Yen Chang posthumous admission as an attorney and counselor at law in all courts of the state of California." (emphasis added).
The Court opinion briefly summarizes the history of legal discrimination against persons of Chinese ancestry under both state and federal law. It states that the discriminatory restrictions on bar admission were undermined by U.S. Supreme Court decisions and other developments in the law, including the Court's 2014 decision in the case of Sergio Garcia, which held that undocumented immigrants are eligible for admission to the California bar.
The Court's opinion concludes in celebratory fashion:
"In light of these developments, it is past time to acknowledge that the discriminatory exclusion of Chang from the State Bar of California was a grievous wrong. It denied Chang equal protection of the laws; apart from his citizenship, he was by all accounts qualified for admission to the bar. It was also a blow to countless others who, like Chang, aspired to become a lawyer only to have their dream deferred on account of their race, alienage, or nationality. And it was a loss to our communities and to society as a whole, which denied itself the full talents of its people and the important benefits of a diverse legal profession.
More than a century later, Chang’s descendants and the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association at the University of California, Davis School of Law have sought to right this wrong. Even if we cannot undo history, we can acknowledge it and, in so doing, accord a full measure of recognition to Chang’s pathbreaking efforts to become the first lawyer of Chinese descent in the United States. The people and the courts of California were denied Chang’s services as a lawyer. But we need not be denied his example as a pioneer for a more inclusive legal profession. In granting Hong Yen Chang posthumous admission to the California Bar, we affirm his rightful place among the ranks of persons deemed qualified to serve as an attorney and counselor at law in the courts of California."