Chin Bak Kan v. United States

The Case: U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Chinese Exclusion Acts

Date: Decided on June 2, 1902

Significance: The decision demonstrated that the majority of the justices sympathized with the vigorous enforcement of the Chinese Exclusion Acts and that they were not disposed to allow minor procedural defects to interfere with the deportation of persons entering the country illegally.

In 1901, Chin Bak Kan, a Chinese laborer, surreptitiously entered the state of New York through Canada. Following Kan’s arrest, a U.S. commissioner for the Northern District of New York found him guilty of violating the most recent Chinese Exclusion Act and ordered his immediate deportation to China. Kan appealed the order on procedural grounds, but the U.S. district court approved the deportation.

The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the district court’s judgment. Writing the opinion for the Court, Chief Justice Melville Fuller reviewed the history of the Chinese Exclusion Acts and considered the principles of due process utilized in the proceedings. Although finding a few minor defects, he concluded that they did not affect the authority of the commissioner or the validity of the deportation order. The fact that a U.S. commissioner rather than a judge had ordered the deportation was not problematic because the law delegated this power to commissioners. In Fuller’s view, the crucial issue was Kan’s inability to establish by “affirmative proof, to the satisfaction of such justice, judge, or commissioner, his lawful right to remain in the United States.”

Thomas Tandy Lewis

Further Reading

  • Chang, Iris. The Chinese in America: A Narrative History. New York: Viking Press, 2003. 
  • McClain, Charles J. In Search of Equality: The Chinese Struggle Against Discrimination in Nineteenth- Century America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994. 

See also: Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882; Chinese Exclusion Cases; Chinese immigrants; Chy Lung v. Freeman; Congress, U.S.; Supreme Court, U.S.

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