All Persons Born or Naturalized ...
The Legacy of US v Wong Kim Ark

UC Hastings College of the Law Library

Summer, 2001 and updated Spring, 2009


Introduction | History of Anti-Chinese Laws | Wong Kim Ark's Case | Legal Issues Today | Works Consulted


Wong Kim Ark was born in San Francisco to Chinese parents in 1873. After a visit to China in 1895, he returned to the United States through San Francisco harbor. He was not allowed back in the country, on the grounds that he was not a citizen. Moreover, federal Chinese Exclusion Acts forbade him from entering as an immigrant. Thomas Riordan, a lawyer for the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco and the Chinese Six Companies, filed a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of Wong Kim Ark in federal district court. Citing Ark's birth in the US and relying on the authority of Look Tin Sing, 21 F. 905 (1884), the court ordered him discharged from custody. The decision was immediately appealed to the US Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court appeal hinged upon the interpretation of the first clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which states, "...all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States." The government argued that Wong Kim Ark was not a citizen because his Chinese parentage made him subject to the emperor of China. In a six to two decision (Justice McKenna did not participate), Justice Gray wrote the majority opinion that a child born to two Chinese nationals legally present on American soil was an American citizen. The case was a landmark legal victory for Asian-Americans during a period of intense anti-Asian sentiment. For the text of the entire case, click here: United States v Wong Kim Ark


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Research and text by Chuck Marcus, Reference Librarian. Research and web design by Beret Aune and Katie Wadell, Library Assistants. Research updates by Alysa Gerard