Legal History

Law students seek license for long-deceased would-be attorney

Seeking to right a 124-year-old wrong, a law student group and two law professors at the University of California-Davis have submitted a bar application on behalf of Hong Yeng Chang.

In a well-known case, he was denied a law license in 1890 because he was Chinese, KCRA reports.

An 1886 graduate of Columbia Law School, he was admitted in New York with the help of a special state legislative act. But when he moved to California in 1890, the state’s top court nixed his bar application, citing a federal law denying U.S. citizenship to Chinese natives and a state law prohibiting noncitizens from practicing law. He went on to a distinguished career as a banker and diplomat.

“Admitting Mr. Chang would be a powerful symbol of our state’s repudiation of laws that singled out Chinese immigrants for discrimination,” said law professor Gabriel “Jack” Chin. He serves as an adviser to the law school’s Asian Pacific American Law Students Association, which is submitting the application.

“This is a unique situation, and we don’t know what the Committee of Bar Examiners will do with the application,” Laura Ernde, a spokeswoman for the State Bar of California, told the station.

Ordinarily, the committee recommends to the state supreme court whether to admit or deny admission to bar applicants. It is scheduled to make application decisions in June.

Chin said there is no precedent in California concerning a posthumous law license. However, the top courts of two other states have granted them in similar cases of discrimination. Pennsylvania licensed George Vashon in 2010, and Washington licensed Takuji Yamashita in 2001. Vashon was denied a law license in 1847 because he was black and Yamashita could not get one in 1902 because of his Japanese ancestry.

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