Jordan v. Tashiro

The Case: U.S. Supreme Court decision concerning privileges in treaties

Date: Decided on November 19, 1928

Significance: One of a series of rulings relating to the tension between U.S. treaties with Japan and California’s alien land laws, the Tashiro decision gave a broad and liberal interpretation of the privileges guaranteed by treaties, emphasizing the common meanings of the words in a 1911 commerce treaty.

The U.S.-Japanese Treaty of Commerce and Navigation of 1911 authorized citizens of Japan to participate in commerce, which included everything "incident to or necessary for trade upon the same terms as native citizens.” The treaty put significant limits on the extent to which California was able to enforce the discriminatory Alien Land Law, passed in 1913. In interpreting the treaty, the Supreme Court had ruled that the treaty protected the right to operate a pawnbroker business but that it did not extend to manufacturing or agricultural production.

K. Tashiro and other citizens of Japan residing in California petitioned the state government for the incorporation of a Japanese hospital in Los Angeles. State officials refused to consider the petition on the grounds that treaty rights did not extend to the operation of a business corporation. Tashiro and his associates challenged the refusal in state court. When the court agreed with Tashiro’s position, the secretary of state of California petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, which was granted.

The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the ruling of the lower court. Writing the opinion of the Court, Justice Harlan F. Stone followed the precedent of liberally construing the privileges enumerated in treaties, and he concluded that the ordinary meanings of the words in the 1911 treaty necessarily included three relevant privileges: (1) conducting a business in corporate form, (2) providing medical services for a fee, and (3) leasing an appropriate amount of land needed for the purpose of a commercial business.

Thomas Tandy Lewis

Further Reading

Hyung-chan, Kim, ed. Asian Americans and the Supreme Court: A Documentary History. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1992.

LeMay, Michael, and Elliott Robert Barkan, eds. U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Laws and Issues: A Documentary History. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999.

See also: Alien land laws; California; History of immigration after 1891; Japanese immigrants; Supreme Court, U.S.

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