Law students still study a decision from 1890 by the California Supreme Court that denied Hong Yen Chang the ability to practice law because he was Chinese. Students from the University of California, Davis, School of Law’s Asian Pacific American Law Students Association have filed an application to practice law in California on behalf of Chang, according to The Associated Press.
The application has been filed with the State Bar of California. It is step one in the process that ends with appearing in front of the California Supreme Court, which licenses attorneys in the state.
“This is a unique situation and we don’t know what the Committee of Bar Examiners will do with the application,” spokeswoman Laura Ernde said. The application will be under consideration in late June.
“Admitting Mr. Chang would be a powerful symbol of our state’s repudiation of laws that singled out Chinese immigrants for discrimination,” said Gabriel “Jack” Chin, a professor at UC Davis School of Law and the student association’s adviser.
Change studied at Yale and earned his law degree from Columbia Law School in 1886. He was initially denied the opportunity to take the New York bar exam, but a special act from the Legislature allowed it. He sat for and passed the bar. Change was the first Chinese immigrant to become a lawyer in the United States, according to The New York Times in a report from that time.
Chang moved to California in 1890 in the hopes of practicing law and representing the growing Chinese population in San Francisco. His application was denied by the state’s Supreme Court, stating the federal Chinese Exclusion Act. This barred Chinese natives from acquiring citizenship in the country. The court also cited a California law that prohibited noncitizens from practicing law.
“It’s a pretty notorious decision,” Chin said. “Every student can put themselves in his position.”