The Racial Prerequisite Cases

People born in the United States are automatically citizens of the United States. But if you come to the US as an immigrant, and become a citizen, it's called "naturalized" citizenship. In 1790, the US Congress passed a law stating that naturalized citizenship was only open to "free white persons." That is, only a free white person could could apply for, and get, US citizenship. The law left out indentured servants, slaves, and most women, who were considered dependents and thus not free.

It's not always clear the law was closely enforced, because it's full of ambiguity. As you've seen in the Irish immigrant exercise, 19th and 20th century Americans had some very different ideas about what "white" meant.

In the years following the Civil War, a series of "racial prerequisite" cases came before the various state courts and the US Supreme Court. In these cases, residents of the US applied for citizenship, and the Courts were asked to decide whether or not the applicants were "white."

Below is a list of racial prerequisite cases that shows how confused the Courts were--they could not decide the basis for their rulings with any consistency. Review the list and continue.

Case Holding Rationales
In re Ah Yup, 1878 Chinese are not White Scientific evidence 
Common knowledge 
Congressional intent
In re Hong Yen Chang, 1890 Chinese are not White Legal precedent
In re Gee Hop, 1895 Chinese are not White Legal precedent 
Congressional intent
In re Kanaka Nian, 1889 Hawaiians are not White Scientific evidence
In re Po, 1894 Burmese are not White Common knowledge 
Legal precedent
In re Saito, 1894 Japanese are not White Congressional intent 
Common knowledge 
Scientific evidence 
Legal precedent
In re Yamashita, 1902 Japanese are not White Legal precedent
In re Buntaro Kumagai, 1908 Japanese are not White Congressional intent 
Legal precedent
Bessho v. U.S., 1910 Japanese are not White Congressional intent
Ozawa v. U.S., 1922 Japanese are not White Legal precedent 
Congressional intent 
Common knowledge 
Scientific evidence 
Sato v. Hall, 1923 Japanese are not White Legal precedent
In re Rodriguez, 1897 Mexicans are White Legal precedent
In re Burton, 1900 Native Americans are not White No explanation
In re Balsara, 1909 Asian Indians are probably not White Congressional intent
U.S. v. Dolla, 1910 Asian Indians are White Ocular inspection of skin
U.S. v. Balsara 1910 Asian Indians are White Scientific evidence 
Congressional intent
In re Akhay Kumar Mozumdar, 1913 Asian Indians are White Legal precedent
In re Sadar Bhagwab Singh, 1917 Asian Indians are not White Common knowledge 
Congressional intent
In re Mohan Singh, 1919 Asian Indians are White Scientific evidence 
Legal precedent
In re Thind, 1920 Asian Indians are White Legal precedent
U.S. v. Thind, 1923 Asian Indians are not White Common knowledge 
Congressional intent
U.S. v. Akhay Kumar Mozumdar, 1923 Asian Indians are not White Legal precedent
U.S. v. Ali, 1925 Punjabis (whether Hindu or Arabian) are not White Common knowledge
U.S. v. Gokhale, 1928 Asian Indians are not White Legal precedent
Wadia v. U.S., 1939 Asian Indians are not White Common knowledge
Kharaiti Ram Samras v. U.S., 1942 Asian Indians are not White Legal precedent
In re Najour, 1909 Syrians are White Scientific evidence
In re Mudarri, 1910 Syrians are White Scientific evidence 
Legal precedent
In re Ellis, 1910 Syrians are White Common knowledge 
Congressional intent
Ex parte Shahid, 1913 Syrians are not White Common knowledge
Ex parte Dow, 1914 Syrians are not White Common knowledge
In re Dow, 1914 Syrians are not White Common knowledge 
Congressional intent
Dow v. U.S., 1915 Syrians are White Scientific evidence 
Congressional intent 
Legal precedent
In re Mallari, 1916 Filipinos are not White No explanation
In re Rallos, 1917 Filipinos are not White Legal precedent
U.S. v. Javier, 1927 Filipinos are not White Legal precedent
De La Ysla v. U.S., 1935 Filipinos are not White Legal precedent
De Cano v. State, 1941 Filipinos are not White Legal precedent
Petition of Easurk Emsen Charr, 1921 Koreans are not White Common knowledge 
Legal precedent
In re Halladjian, 1909 Armenians are White Scientific evidence 
Legal precedent
U.S. v. Cartozian, 1925 Armenians are White Scientific evidence 
Common knowledge 
Legal precedent
In re Feroz Din, 1928 Afghanis are not White Common knowledge
In re Ahmed Hassan, 1942 Arabians are not White Common knowledge 
Legal precedent
Ex parte Mohriez, 1944 Arabians are not White Common knowledge 
Legal precedent
In re Camille, 1880 Persons 1/2 White and 1/2 Native American are not White Legal precedent
In re Knight, 1909 Persons 1/2 White, 1/4 Japanese, 1/4 Chinese are not White Legal precedent
In re Alverto, 1912 Persons 3/4 Filipino and 1/4 White are not White Legal precedent 
Congressional intent
In re Young, 1912 Persons 1/2 German and 1/2 Japanese are not White Legal precedent
In re Young, 1912 Persons 1/2 German and 1/2 Japanese are not White Common knowledge 
Legal precedent
In re Lampitoe, 1916 Persons 3/4 Filipino and 1/4 White are not White Legal precedent
In re Fisher, 1927 Persons 3/4 Chinese and 1/4 White are not White Legal precedent
In re Cruz, 1938 Persons 3/4 Native American and 1/4 African are not African Legal precedent
 Lopez, Ian Haney.  White By Law:  The Legal Construction of Race.  New York:  New York University Press, 1996.

Are Syrians white? Are Arabs white? Are Armenians white? Are Asian Indians white? What about people who are from mixed marriages.

We'll look a little more closely at two cases in particular, both of which made it to the US Supreme Court: Ozawa and Thind