Saturday, May 17, 2014

Ho Ah Kow v. Nunan case brief summary

Ho Ah Kow v. Nunan (9th Cir. 1879, AR)


Facts:  HAK convicted under state statute and sent to prison, where his queue is cut off. Ordinance that states that male prisoners, for sanitary reasons, must have their hair cut to within one inch of their scalp.  HAK challenges this as cruel and unusual punishment, arguing ordinance targeted Chinese in particular.  

Issue/Holding:  Is the “Queue Ordinance” constitutional?  No.

Reasoning/Major Points:
·         Law exceeds the authority of the “Board of Supervisors.” The legislature did not authorize them to add to the fine imposed by the court or the right to change and add punishments.
·         Equal Protection (“EP”) analysis:  Structure used in this case is EP doctrine today, seems to be rudimentary strict scrutiny analysis. 
o   Even though this legislation is neutral on its face it is clear to everyone that this law was created to target Chinese people, to single them out, and try to coerce them into compliance. 
o   Law was INTENDED to hurt Chinese people in particular in an invidious way.
o   Can look to statements of supervisors (for all intents and purposes here akin to legislators) for the meaning of certain terms used, but the court cannot shut its eyes to the obvious and known purpose of this legislation. “When we take our seats on the bench we are not struck with blindness…”
o   The justification given for the law (to urge Chinese people into compliance with housing statutes) is invalid because it seeks enforcement through a method akin to torture.  Thus, the ordinance violated the 14th Am.

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