How Do We Right The Wrong of Old Chinese Exclusion Act?

Hong Yen Chang.
Hong Yen Chang (Courtesy)

UC Davis School of Law students petitioned to get him admitted to Bar; Columbia now names their Chinese Law Center for him

In 2015, more than a century after a New York lawyer was denied the opportunity to practice law in California, UC Davis law students were able to posthumously gain his admission to the California State Bar. Now his law school alma mater — Columbia Law School — has further honored him by naming its Center for Chinese Legal Studies for the lawyer, Hong Yen Chang.

Kimmy Yam for NBC News reported on the latest story from Columbia law school this week. Chang in 1886 was Columbia's first Chinese law graduate.He gained admission to the New York Bar, but California denied him that right.

In the late 1800s, the federal Chinese Exclusion Act banned Chinese immigrants from naturalizing as citizens, and a California law prohibited noncitizens from practicing law in the state. Taken together, these laws made it impossible for people of Chinese descent to earn law licenses in the state. Chang petitioned the California Supreme Court, but was denied admission.

"...Mistakes like exclusion of Mr. Chang from the California bar in 1890 must be acknowledged and rectified."  — Jack Chin, professor of law

Then, UC Davis School of Law entered the picture. Students in the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association, led by law professor Gabriel "Jack" Chin, in 2015 successfully petitioned the State Bar of California, and eventually the California Supreme Court, to admit Chang to practice law.

Jack Chin
Gabriel "Jack" Chin, professor of law

Their petition pointed out that laws that prevented the lawyer from practicing as an attorney have been discredited and repealed and asking the court to "right this historic wrong." In "a candid reckoning with a sordid chapter of our state and national history," the court granted Chang posthumous admission to the California bar.

Chin said he has been continually pleased with the developments, even though it has taken a while.

"There's a saying that 'the wheels of justice grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine.'  What that means to me is that in the United States, which cherishes and honors its history, mistakes like exclusion of Mr. Chang from the California bar in 1890 must be acknowledged and rectified," he said.
"A diverse body of seven women and men on the California Supreme Court admitted him to the bar a few years ago including Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye," who is an '84 graduate of the law school.  "It is stunning but true that none of them, probably, would even have been allowed to vote in California in 1890, to say nothing of serving as a Justice."

This latest honor was subsequently reported in the Immigration Prof Blog this week here


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