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decided: June 7, 1948.



Vinson, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas, Murphy, Jackson, Rutledge, Burton

Author: Black

[ 334 U.S. Page 412]

 MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

The respondent, Torao Takahashi, born in Japan, came to this country and became a resident of California in 1907. Federal laws, based on distinctions of "color and race," Toyota v. United States, 268 U.S. 402, 411-412, have permitted Japanese and certain other non-white racial groups to enter and reside in the country, but have made them ineligible for United States citizenship.*fn1 The question presented is whether California can, consistently with the Federal Constitution and laws passed pursuant to it, use this federally created racial ineligibility for citizenship as a basis for barring Takahashi from earning his living as a commercial fisherman in the ocean waters off the coast of California.

[ 334 U.S. Page 413]

     Prior to 1943 California issued commercial fishing licenses to all qualified persons without regard to alienage or ineligibility to citizenship. From 1915 to 1942 Takahashi, under annual commercial fishing licenses issued by the State, fished in ocean waters off the California coast, apparently both within and without the three-mile coastal belt, and brought his fresh fish ashore for sale. In 1942, while this country was at war with Japan, Takahashi and other California residents of Japanese ancestry were evacuated from the State under military orders. See Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214. In 1943, during the period of war and evacuation, an amendment to the California Fish and Game Code was adopted prohibiting issuance of a license to any "alien Japanese." Cal. Stats. 1943, ch. 1100. In 1945, the state code was again amended by striking the 1943 provision for fear that it might be "declared unconstitutional" because directed only "against alien Japanese";*fn2 the new amendment banned issuance of licenses to any "person ineligible to citizenship," which classification included Japanese. Cal. Stats. 1945, ch. 181.*fn3 Because of this state

[ 334 U.S. Page 414]

     provision barring issuance of commercial fishing licenses to persons ineligible for citizenship under federal law, Takahashi, who met all other state requirements, was denied a license by the California Fish and Game Commission upon his return to California in 1945.

Takahashi brought this action for mandamus in the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, California, to compel the Commission to issue a license to him. That court granted the petition for mandamus. It held that lawful alien inhabitants of California, despite their ineligibility to citizenship, were entitled to engage in the vocation of commercial fishing on the high seas beyond the three-mile belt on the same terms as other lawful state inhabitants, and that the California code provision denying them this right violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The State Supreme Court, three judges dissenting, reversed, holding that California had a proprietary interest in fish in the ocean waters within three miles of the shore, and that this interest justified the State in barring all aliens in general and aliens ineligible to citizenship in particular from catching fish within or without the three-mile coastal belt and bringing them to California for commercial purposes. 30 Cal. 2d 719, 185 P. 2d 805.*fn4 To review this question

[ 334 U.S. Page 415]

     of importance in the fields of federal-state relationships and of constitutionally protected individual equality and liberty, we granted certiorari.

We may well begin our consideration of the principles to be applied in this case by a summary of this Court's holding in Truax v. Raich, 239 U.S. 33, not deemed controlling by the majority of the California Supreme Court, but regarded by the dissenters as requiring the invalidation of the California law. That case involved an attack upon an Arizona law which required all Arizona employers of more than five workers to hire not less than eighty (80) per cent qualified electors or native-born citizens of the United States. Raich, an alien who worked as a cook in a restaurant which had more than five employees, was about to lose his job solely because of the state law's coercive effect on the restaurant owner. This Court, in upholding Raich's contention that the Arizona law was invalid, declared that Raich, having been lawfully admitted into the country under federal law, had a federal privilege to enter and abide in "any State in the Union" and thereafter under the Fourteenth Amendment to

[ 334 U.S. Page 416]

     enjoy the equal protection of the laws of the state in which he abided; that this privilege to enter in and abide in any state carried with it the "right to work for a living in the common occupations of the community," a denial of which right would make of the Amendment "a barren form of words." In answer to a contention that Arizona's restriction upon the employment of aliens was "reasonable" and therefore permissible, this Court declared:

"It must also be said that reasonable classification implies action consistent with the legitimate interests of the State, and it will not be disputed that these cannot be so broadly conceived as to bring them into hostility to exclusive Federal power. The authority to control immigration -- to admit or exclude aliens -- is vested solely in the Federal Government. Fong Yue Ting v. United States, 149 U.S. 698, 713. The assertion of an authority to deny to aliens the opportunity of earning a livelihood when lawfully admitted to the State would be tantamount to the assertion of the right to deny them entrance and abode, for in ordinary cases they cannot live where they cannot work. And, if such a policy were permissible, the practical result would be that those lawfully admitted to the country under the authority of the acts of Congress, instead of enjoying in a substantial sense and in their full scope the privileges conferred by the admission, would be segregated in such of the States as chose to offer hospitality." Truax v. Raich, supra at 42.

Had the Truax decision said nothing further than what is quoted above, its reasoning, if followed, would seem to require invalidation of this California code provision barring aliens from the occupation of fishing as inconsistent with federal law, which is constitutionally declared to be "the supreme Law of the Land." However,

[ 334 U.S. Page 417]

     the Court there went on to note that it had on occasion sustained state legislation that did not apply alike to citizens and non-citizens, the ground for the distinction being that such laws were necessary to protect special interests either of the state or of its citizens as such. The Truax opinion pointed out that the Arizona law, aimed as it was against employment of aliens in all vocations, failed to show a "special public interest with respect to any particular business . . . that could possibly be deemed to support the enactment." The Court noted that it had previously upheld various state laws which restricted the privilege of planting oysters in the tidewater rivers of a state to citizens of that state, and which denied to aliens within a state the privilege of possessing a rifle and of shooting game within that state; it also referred to decisions recognizing a state's broad powers, in the absence of overriding treaties, to restrict the devolution of real property to non-aliens.*fn5

California now urges, and the State Supreme Court held, that the California fishing provision here challenged falls within the rationale of the "special public interest" cases distinguished in the Truax opinion, and thus that the state's ban upon commercial fishing by aliens ineligible to citizenship is valid. The contention is this: California owns the fish within three miles of its coast as a trustee for all California citizens as distinguished from its non-citizen inhabitants; as such trustee-owner, it has complete power to bar any or all aliens from fishing in the three-mile belt as a means of conserving the supply of fish; since migratory fish caught while swimming in the three-mile belt are indistinguishable from those caught while swimming in the adjacent high seas, the State, in

[ 334 U.S. Page 418]

     order to enforce its three-mile control, can also regulate the catching and delivery to its coast of fish caught beyond the three-mile belt under this Court's decision in Bayside Fish Co. v. Gentry, 297 U.S. 422. Its law denying fishing licenses to aliens ineligible for citizenship, so the state's contention goes, tends to reduce the number of commercial fishermen and therefore is a proper fish conservation measure; in the exercise of its power to decide what groups will be denied licenses, the State has a right, if not a duty, to bar first of all aliens, who have no community interest in the fish owned by the State. Finally, the legislature's denial of licenses to those aliens who are "ineligible to ...

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