Laws Harsh as Tigers: Chinese Immigrants and the Shaping of Modern Immigration Law

By Lucy E. Salyer | Go to book overview

PART I
Judicial Justice, 1891-1905

By the time William W. Morrow took the bench as district court judge for the Northern District of California on September 18, 1891, the court had been barraged with Chinese immigration cases for almost a decade. In that time the Chinese filed more than seven thousand petitions for habeas corpus, and the court attracted the wrath of the public and the administrative officials by allowing the vast majority of these Chinese to enter freely.1 An examiner for the Department of Justice warned the attorney general in 1887 that the court was in crisis: "The courts are already impaled upon the shafts of vituperation and ridicule by the Press of the State, and the danger is, that the people will lose all confidence in them, a result much to be feared, and than which there is nothing worse. Once tear away that 'divinity' which should 'hedge in' a court and let a people lose confidence in its integrity, and communism, anarchy and riot, follow as certainly as the morning follows night."2

When Morrow became judge, it seemed possible that the court's "divinity" might be restored. The deaths of Judge Ogden Hoffman of the district court and Judge Lorenzo Sawyer of the circuit court in 1891 brought to a close the first era of the Northern District Court's history. Californians had a new federal court staffed with judges -- Morrow in the district court and Joseph McKenna in the circuit court -- who had displayed their loyalty to anti-Chinese forces in Congress. As a California representative to Congress between 1885 and 1891, William Morrow had been at the forefront of the campaign to make the Chinese restriction acts more severe. McKenna, serving in the House of Representatives during the same period, joined his colleague as a vehement proponent of Chinese exclusion.

Furthermore, a new collector, Timothy Phelps, had been appointed to

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