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43 J. Sup. Ct. Hist. 7 (2018)
A Chinese Wall at the Nation's Borders: Justice Stephen Field and the Chinese Exclusion Case

handle is hein.journals/jspcth43 and id is 9 raw text is: 














A Chinese Wall at the Nation's


Borders: Justice Stephen Field


and The Chinese Exclusion Case








                                                            POLLY J. PRICE


    In 1882, Congress passed the first of a
series of acts to exclude Chinese laborers
from the United  States.' Known as The
Chinese Exclusion Act,2 the popular title
of the legislation also became the informal
title of the ensuing constitutional challenge in
the U.S.  Supreme  Court. Although  the
litigation officially came before the Court
as Chae Chan Ping v. United States,3 Justice
Stephen  Field entitled it The Chinese
Exclusion Case, no doubt drawn from the
term used by the popular press, who followed
the case as closely as any in its day. The name
stuck. Indeed, to this day The  Chinese
Exclusion Case is the most common citation
form for the momentous decision that set the
parameters of legal debate over immigration
for the next century and through the present.
    The  Chinese Exclusion Case was the
first of a series of cases in the  early
Progressive Era about Chinese immigration.
With uncanny  echoes of political discourse
today, those following the case spoke of a


deleterious effect on American workers, and
argued the morality and constitutional per-
missibility of banning an entire race, given
that the United States had viewed itself to be a
welcoming  nation for all immigrants. Even
whether a wall (and yes, the term Chinese
wall was used) could stop the flow of illicit
entry via land borders-from Canada primar-
ily, but also by way of Mexico. The Chinese
wall was mostly figurative, not literal, but it
signified an increased demand for border
guards and  the rise of an administrative
structure designed to enforce the terms of
Chinese exclusion as set by Congress.4
    The Court's unanimity in The Chinese
Exclusion Case  could  lead the modem
observer to overlook a highly contentious
set of issues. Headlines from news articles
bore remarkable similarity to recent division
of opinion in America about immigration,
including The Chinese Invasion: Alleged
Violations of the Exclusion Law,5 Anti-
Coolie Agitation,6 Still They Come: The

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