California land cases to the US Supreme Court

California land cases to the US Supreme Court

After the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, in the early 1850s, the U.S. Congress created a land commission to review claims of land ownership predating California's accession. Hundreds of claims were filed. Many denials were appealed to the federal courts. One such case was Meader v. Norton, decided in the Supreme Court in 1870.

How many California land cases were eventually decided by the U.S. Supreme Court?

Most of them. I know that's kind of vague but:

… In these five years, 813 cases involving private land claims were heard by the Commission : 604 claim were confirmed; 190 rejected; and the rest were withdrawn. Of these 813 cases, only three were decided by the Board: the rest were appealed to the District court and then a majority of these were finally decided by the Supreme Court.


So if we take this (lengthy) document at face value, over 400 (most) were settled at the Supreme Court level.

Alien Land Laws in California (1913 & 1920)

California, along with many other western states, enacted laws that banned "aliens ineligible for citizenship" from owning or leasing land. The Supreme Court upheld these laws as constitutional.


Eiichi Sakauye describes his Issei father’s method of coping with the alien land law (2016, March 31). Densho Encyclopedia.

Discussion Questions

Where in the text of the law does it prohibit Japanese people from owning land?

How does the law target Japanese farmers without naming them?

How would this law disrupt Japanese communities?


Japanese Americans responded to anti-Asian hostility by focusing on agriculture as an economic endeavor that would be less threatening to whites. Japanese Americans succeeded in establishing farms supported by ethnic networks that facilitated purchasing of supplies and equipment, transportation, and marketing. The governments of many western states targeted Japanese Americans by passing legislation that banned “aliens ineligible for citizenship” from owning or leasing land. Japanese Americans circumvented these laws by placing land under the names of U.S.-born children or under corporate ownership, practices restricted by later versions of these laws. Although these laws were clearly based on racially discriminatory categories, the Supreme Court upheld them as constitutional in the early 1920s. Many Japanese Americans were forced to relinquish their farms and moved elsewhere, a practice that became formal U.S. policy with incarceration during World War II.


An act relating to the rights, powers and disabilities of aliens and of certain companies, associations and corporations with respect to property in this state . . . .

Section 1. All aliens eligible to citizenship under the laws of the United States may acquire, possess, enjoy, transmit, and inherit real property, or any interest therein, in this state in the same manner and to the same extent as citizens of the United States, except as otherwise provided by the laws of this state.

Sec. 2. All aliens other than those mentioned in section one of this act may acquire, possess, enjoy, and transfer real property, or any interest therein, in this state in the manner and to the extent and for the purpose prescribed by any treaty now existing between the government of the United States and the nation or country . . . and not otherwise, and may in addition thereto lease lands in this state for agricultural purposes for a term not exceeding three years.

Sec. 3. Any company, association or corporation organized under the laws of this or any other state or nation, of which a majority of the members are aliens other than those specified in section one of this act, or in which a majority of the issued capital stock is owned by such aliens, may acquire, possess, enjoy and convey real property, or any interest therein, in this state, in the manner and to the extent and for the purposes prescribed by any treaty no existing between the government of the United States and the nation or country of which such members or stockholders are citizens or subjects, and not otherwise, and may in addition thereto lease lands in this state for agricultural purposes for a term not exceeding three years…

Sec. 5. Any real property hereafter acquired in fee in violation of the provisions of this act by any alien mentioned in section two of this act, or by any company, association or corporation mentioned in section three of this act, shall . . . become and remain property of the State of California…


Commentary by Franklin Odo:​ California led the way for fifteen states to pass legislation preventing “aliens ineligible to citizenship” from owning land. Although occasionally used against other Asians, these laws were directly aimed at Japanese immigrants, who were perceived as gaining undue economic power through agricultural holdings. Legislation using the words “Asian” or “Japanese” would clearly be unconstitutional, hence the circumlocution. Violators would have their property revert to control by the state. But at least some Japanese manage to evade the law, and the legislature moved in 1920 to strengthen its provisions as well as prohibit the practice of immigrant Japanese (as guardians) placing land in the legal hands of their citizen children. The Supreme Court declared such laws constitutional in 1923, and California’s law remained on the books until 1956, although court cases had invalidated the 1920 and 1913 Alien Land Laws in Oyama v, California (1948) and Fuji Sei v. State of California (1952).
Excerpt from: Odo, F. (ed.) (2002). The columbia documentary history of the Asian American experience. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

California land cases to the US Supreme Court - History

Dean of San Francisco Bar and
Former President of Bar Association Many brilliant young lawyers during the early days of California were lured away temporarily by the hidden gold of mountains and tempted to play with running water and pan and rocks to obtain the glistening metal that might pave for them a pathway to success in life. But the jealous mistress, the law, called them back.

I may be permitted to recall a few names. Foremost among them was California's first American Civil governor, Peter H. Burnett, a Tennesseean. Years before Marshall's discovery of gold, Burnett had made the covered wagon trip to the Oregon country at a time when the region was claimed by both Great Britain and the United States. In the absence of the local law from either sovereignty he joined his neighbors in the organization of a provisional government.

After service as a member of the Supreme Court of Oregon he organized a party to pioneer into the gold fields of California. He mined at Long's Bar on the Yuba river before he became the first governor of California in December, 1849. Later he was a Supreme Court Justice of California. It is interesting to note that the primary purpose of Peter H. Burnett's pioneer pilgrimage to Oregon and to California was to enable him to pay his business associates in St. Louis, Mo., an indebtedness he could not otherwise meet. In 1852 he paid them the last dollar of indebtedness with interest, amounting to $28,740. Toward the end of his career Burnett was president of the Pacific Bank in San Francisco.

Like Thomas McFarland, Judge John Hager mined in Nevada county before he became a judge of the Fourth District or Collector of Port in San Francisco.

William P. Daingerfield mined in Shasta county before he became judge of the District Court, embracing that county, or became judge of the Twelfth District, embracing San Francisco and San Mateo counties. As presiding judge of the newly created Superior Court of San Francisco in 1880, in apportioning the business among the twelve departments of that court, he divided the business of his superseded Twelfth District court between his own department, One, and Department Two, presided over by Jeremiah F. Sullivan. Another lawyer- miner of pioneer days was Cornelius Cole, who worked in El Dorado county before he became congressman or United States senator from California.

"The Father of the Codes" of 1872, Creed Haymond, before he attained his majority or made his study of law, worked in the mines of Sierra county.

Two Pioneer Lawyers, Who Worked for, Though Not With, Miners

Two distinguished men of the law, who counseled the miners and legislated for them, though not credited with having handled pick, shovel nor pan, are Elisha W. McKinstry and Stephen J. Field. McKinstry was a member of the Assembly from Sacramento at the first session of the Legislature which met at San Jose on December 15, 1849, and ended its work on April 22, 1850. He served the people in various other capacities, judicial and otherwise, with satisfaction to the public and great credit to himself, terminating a highly honorable career of over 15 years on the supreme bench by resignation October 1, 1888.

Shuck, in his history of the Bench and Bar of California says:
"Judge McKinstry wrote the majority opinion (4 to 3) of the State Supreme Court in that great water rights case of Lux vs. Haggin in May, 1885, and the majority opinion of that court (also 4 to 3) in the Sharon case, February 1, 1888."

The Lux case was one in which the court held that the Common Law doctrine of riparian rights prevailed in California. The Sharon decision affirmed a judgment of the Superior Court sustaining the validity of a Common Law marriage.

Another pioneer lawyer, legislator and jurist who did not delve into the sides of the Sierra was Stephen J. Field. Perhaps more than any other one man he fabricated the law of California and her sister commonwealths between the Rocky Mountains and the western sea. He was the Alcalde and justice of the peace in Marysville in 1850, and as a member of the Assembly in 1851 performed a most valuable service by revising and formulating the fundamental civil and criminal practice codes of California. An extra- judicial service greatly to his credit and redounding permanently to the harmonious working of the California codes enacted in 1872 was that performed in collaboration with Judge Jackson Temple and John W. Dwinelle under appointment by Governor Booth, as commissioner to report suggested amendments to the codes at the Legislature of 1873-1874. This work was done thoroughly with great detail and months of work while Field was a justice of the United States Supreme Court. The amendments reported by the commissioners and enacted by the Legislature constituted a good- sized volume of laws, as I well remember, because after opening my law office, June 10, 1874, at 637 Kearny street I passed several months of my time, not overcrowded with clients, in cutting my bound volume and inserting each amendment in its appropriate place in my original volume of the codes of 1872. President Lincoln had appointed Judge Field in 1863 to the supreme bench. His service in the highest court continued 26 years. A similar long and honorable service by Justice McKenna has given California representation in the greatest judicial tribunal in the world for more than 50 years.

A pioneer lawyer who preceded the gold seekers was Horace Hawes, who arrived in California in 1847. As Judge Field was a great factor in the foundation of the permanent law of California. Horace Hawes was possibly the greatest factor in shaping the political government of San Francisco. Originally the City of San Francisco was the county seat of the County of San Francisco, one of the first 27 counties organized by the Legislature February 18 1850. The territory known since 1856 as San Mateo county was the southern and greater portion of San Francisco county. The first incorporated City of San Francisco was bounded on the south by a line two miles south of the center of Portsmouth Square parallel with Clay street, and on the west by a line 1 1/2 miles from the square parallel with Kearny street. The statute of 1856 created the County of San Mateo and made of the remaining territory of San Francisco county a consolidated City and County of San Francisco, the smallest bit of territory, but the greatest political and commercial factor in the upbuilding of the Golden State. Horace Hawes created the original charter of San Francisco. His Consolidation Act of 1856 has shaped the political history of our local government ever since.

Interregnum Between Mexican Rule and American Law

Events affecting the future of the Mexican province of Alta California followed in quick succession. Active hostilities ceased when General Winfield Scott, after battling down the guardian fortresses of Molinao del Rey and Chapultepec, at the gates of the Mexican capital, stood in the center of the Grand Plaza, September 14, 1847, and bared head and uplifted sword proclaimed the conquest of Mexico.

The treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, defining the terms of peace, was signed on February 2, 1848, and finally proclaimed by President Polk July 4, 1848.

Immediately following the cessation of hostilities with Mexico, and the proclamation of peace, an event of epochal importance transpired on the south fork of the American river on the lands of John A. Sutter, a Swiss, who had become a Mexican citizen. Convinced that the public attention which the war had focused on California would result in a large influx of newcomers and a resulting demand for lumber, Sutter sought the co- operation of a New Jersey millwright named [John] Marshall to build in partnership with him a sawmill at a point known as Coloma in El Dorado county. As the mill was nearing completion a change in the tail- race became necessary, which involved digging up of the river bed at the lower end and the release of accumulated waters over the rocks and earth at the bottom. The sluicing over night left exposed to the astonished eyes of millwright Marshall in the morning a glittering substance which proved to be gold. The exact date of the discovery is in dispute. Hittell in his history of California gives January 19, 1848, as the date. No dispute has ever existed as to its effect. Within five years twelve hundred million dollars in gold were extracted from its repository of the ages in California and placed in the coffers of the world. Alta California has become a foremost American commonwealth and the vast stretch of territory from Baja (Lower) California to British Columbia and from the Rocky Mountains to the great western ocean has become an unbroken field of American states.

On February 12, 1848, Colonel Richard B. Mason, as Acting Governor of California, made a proclamation abrogating Mexican mining laws and customs in California. Whether Mason's proclamation amounted to a mere brutum fulmen, or not, it served a useful purpose, preventing the assertion of false claims of mine ownership or operation based on the former Mexican law.

The Argonauts Were First American Lawmakers

Certainly no Mexican law governed ownership or operation of mines on public lands already the property of the United States. No law of the United States regulated the sale of mining lands or their operation by an invading army of gold seekers. Immediate or early Congressional legislation seemed improbable. Of the thirty organized governments constituting the United States 15 favored the maintenance and expansion of the institution of slavery. An equal number stood in opposition. Legal chaos confronted the adventurous, earnest, honest men who faced failure or success at the end of their pilgrimage. With the Anglo-Saxon respect for law and order and for personal rights and property, and with purely American initiative, these miners in a moment evolved from their own brains and through their united harmonious action a system of rules and usages concerning the occupation and operation of mines which at once became law. Speaking of this miner- made law and its equal operation, Judge Field, in behalf of the United States Supreme Court, said:

"Nothing but such equality would have been tolerated by the miners, who were emphatically the lawmakers as respects mining upon the public lands in the state. The rules and regulations originally established in California have in their general features been adopted throughout all of the mining regions of the United States. They were so wisely framed and were so just and fair in their operation that they have not to any great extent been interfered with by legislation state or national. In the first mining statute, passed July 9, 1866, they received the recognition and sanction of Congress, as they had previously the legislative and judicial approval of the states and territories in which mines of gold and silver were found."

These discriminating mining legislators initiated a different rule for load claims from that applied to placers. Departing from the Common Law they ordained that the ownership should attach to the thin sheet- like quartz veins and that a claim should consist of a certain horizontal block of the vein, however it might run, but extending indefinitely downward with a strip of surface on or embracing the vein's outcrop for the necessary machinery and buildings.

Ownership and working of quartz vein did not preclude different ownership and use of the surface above for commercial or agricultural purposes. Thriving towns have been built and owned in small holdings, while hundreds, and in some cases thousands of feet underneath mining operatives extracted the precious metals from the veins.

Similarly these wise pioneers of the West devised and operated plan for the use in mining of necessity water on public lands.

The great seal of the State of California carries as its foreground a figure of the Goddess Minerva, fabled as having sprung full grown from the brain of Jupiter, designed to symbolize the full- grown political birth of the state. It may be well claimed to symbolize also the instantaneous full-grown birth in California of the mining and water law of western America.

On June 3, 1849, Bennett Riley announced by direction of his superior officers that he has assumed the administration of civil affairs in California, not as a military governor, but as the executive of an existing civil government whose character and organization he defined. At the same time he called for a convention to meet at Monterey to frame a constitution. Such a convention met in Colton Hall, Monterey, on September 1, 1849, and worked continuously, intelligently and conscientiously until it completed its labors on October 13. Robert Semple of Benicia was president, William G. Marcy, secretary, and J. Ross Brown, official reporter of the convention.

Besides the president, 47 other members signed the constitution. The personnel embraced 36 natives of Eastern States, New York having 11. Seven native Californians were members also one native from each of the following countries: France, Ireland, Scotland, Spain and Switzerland (John A. Sutter). Fourteen styled themselves lawyers and one gave his profession as "U.S. Engineer," being the same H.W. Halleck, who as secretary of state had attested Governor Riley's call for the convention. A graduate of West Point, a distinguished engineer and for a time was one of San Francisco's law firm of Halleck, Peachey, Billings & Park, which, between July and December of 1853, as owners, built the Montgomery block at Washington, Montgomery and Merchant streets. For years it was the nest of the greatest collection of law books and lawyers in California. Halleck must have been a good engineer as Montgomery block is still where he put it. His public papers, his convention debates and his published works prove him a good lawyer.

The constitution was framed in line with the best organic law of American commonwealths. It ruled the state without fundamental change for 30 years. Space permits reference to only a few points.

William E. Shannon, 27 years old, a native of Ireland and three years a resident of California, secured the declaration in the Bill of Rights that neither slavery or involuntary servitude, unless for the punishment of crimes, shall ever be tolerated in this state.

While securing the freedom of other races, the legislators believed in the emancipation of the married woman of their own. Favoring the common as contradistinguished from the civil law, they abolished the common law penalties of loss of identity and loss of property inflicted on the women of property who married. The debates show that the provision was incorporated into the constitution instead of being left to the Legislature in order to insure its perpetuity. Among its motives were its inherent justice to the woman herself the immunity of the woman's property against spoliation or loss in the reckless whirl of mining adventures of the time, and finally, a chivalrous impelling urge was found in the fact that a small percentage of the citizenry represented by a small membership in the convention had grown up under the system of Spain and Mexico and become accustomed to the better treatment of women. This honest and chivalrous treatment of women has been characteristic of Californians throughout 75 years of the law, constitutional and statutory.

The people of California on November 13, 1849, adopted the constitution and elected the officers of the state, therein provided for. The Legislature thus elected met at San Jose on December 15 following. The statutory work to carry out the directions and to supplement the legislation of the constitution itself was well and quickly done.

The state was organized into counties (originally 27) and into judicial districts (originally 9). The Common Law of England as Americanized, was adopted by the statute April 13, 1850. In addition a general scheme of legislation for the proper functioning of the state and its officers was made effective.

The Legislature at its next session in 1851 rounded out the hastily prepared governmental scheme of 1850, and under the dominating influence of Assemblyman Stephen J. Field gave permanent form to the statute of crimes and punishments and to the general laws affecting personal and family relations and to the civil, probate and criminal practice in our courts.

The First California Codes

In 1872, after strenuous and very competent labor by Creed Haymond and his associates, and a very elaborate report by the commission, the general laws of the state were segregated into four codes-- Civil, Civil Procedure, Penal and Political. Each code was enacted as a single statute. The Legislature of 1871-1872 directed that the code provisions should become effective as of the first day of the following year. Amendments of the law since that date are made by reference to the appropriate sections of the code affected.

With but unimportant amendment the constitution of 1849 ruled the state for 30 years.

As authorized by Section 2 of Article X of the constitution, the Legislature of 1876 submitted to the people a proposition to call a convention. The people voted in favor of the proposition. The people voted in favor of the proposition. On March 30, 1878, the Legislature passed an act calling for the election on June 19, 1878, of 152 delegates to the convention. The delegates elected met in Sacramento, September 28, 1878. On March 3, 1879, the convention adopted the constitution.

On May 7, 1879, a new constitution was adopted by a vote of the people. It took effect July 4, 1879, as to the election of officers, the commencement of terms and the meeting of the Legislature. In all other respects it took effect January 1, 1880.

To a lawyer the outstanding change wrought by the constitution of 1879 was the creation of an entirely new judicial system. All former courts, save justices and police courts, were abolished. The County Courts and the 23 District Courts and the former Supreme Court of five justices ceased to exist January 1, 1880.

The new court of Chief Justice and six associate justices, which took office Monday, January 5, 1880, consisted of Robert F. Morrison, chief justice, and Samuel Bell McKee, Erskine M. Ross, John R. Sharpstein, James D. Thornton, E.W. McKinstry and M.H. Myrick, associate justices. .

The new system created a Superior Court for each county in lieu of the former county courts and of the 23 district courts. The court in San Francisco was to have 12 judges, but one judge was to be elected by the two courts of Yuba and Sutter counties, the unique distinction of filling two offices going to Judge Phil W. Keyser of Marysville, who was district judge in the Tenth District covering the counties named.

Six counties were allowed two judges each for their courts, viz., Alameda, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Santa Clara and Sonoma. San Francisco was given 12 judges. .

The courtrooms of the first eight [San Francisco judges] were in what was known in those days as the old City Hall on Kearny street, the site of the present Hall of Justice. The chambers in which they discharged officials duties when not on the bench were in Montgomery block. Judges Finn and Halsey had courtrooms and chambers in the then unfinished new City Hall, corner of McAllister and Larkin streets, the site of the former Yerba Buena (City) Cemetery. Judges Freelon and Ferral transacted the criminal business, and their departments in quarters located on the west side of Montgomery street north of Washington.

The business has increased in 45 years. Sixty-nine Superior Court judges were provided in 1880. One hundred and thirty- two are supplied now. The Supreme Court of 1880 is no longer adequate to the appellate work. By constitutional amendment District Courts of Appeal were established as an intermediate system, one such court sitting in Sacramento, for the northern counties one at San Francisco for the central counties, and the third in Los Angeles for the southern district, each court having three judges. A continued increase of business demanded the additional divisions of the District Court of Appeal are housed in the State Building at the Civic Center. The departments of the Superior Court, with the exceptions of those handling criminal cases in the Hall of Justice, have quarters in the City Hall at the Civic Center, as fine a courthouse as can be found in the United States.

California Jurisprudence Leads

The pioneers who astonished the world by the instant creation of codes of mining and water laws for the western mining world are no longer with us. But the mold in which they were cast was not broken. As a Californian it has been my boast that the pioneers who builded our American state reared such a race of fair, virtuous women, of honest, brave and brainy men as forms a fitting complement for the wealth and beauty with which God and Nature have endowed our loved Californian land. The California law of the closing 75-year period is the most romantic as well as the most useful offering to the world's progress. I trust that in the future, as in the earlier days, California lawyers may prove themselves doers of high- class public service and counselors of the commonweal. Their highest obligation is to perpetuate the respect for the Constitution of the United States shown by founders of the commonwealth. The Bulletin
Diamond Jubilee Edition
September 8, 1925 Return to the top of the page.

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Of Current Interest

Public Access to Clemency Records (May 26, 2021)
Following a review of public comments received on a proposed order concerning the confidentiality of clemency records submitted to the court by the Governor’s Office, the court today approved an administrative order outlining revised procedures for public access to these records. Under the state Constitution, the court has the responsibility to issue or withhold recommendations regarding clemency for persons twice convicted of felonies.

In Memoriam: Hon. Cruz Reynoso (May 2, 1931 – May 7, 2021) (May 25, 2021)
The Supreme Court of California will convene a special program as part of its June 2, 2021 Virtual Oral Argument session to honor Associate Justice Cruz Reynoso (February 1982 – January 1987). The program will commence immediately following oral arguments (at approximately at 11:15 a.m.) and will feature remarks from the bench and four guest speakers: former Justice Joseph R. Grodin Dean Kevin R. Johnson, U.C. Davis School of Law Mr. Luis Céspedes, Governor Newsom’s Judicial Appointments Secretary and Attorney Len ReidReynoso.

Supreme Court Names Members of Blue Ribbon Bar Exam Commission (Apr 27, 2021)
The Joint Supreme Court/State Bar Blue Ribbon Commission on the Future of the California Bar Exam will develop recommendations on whether to make changes to the California Bar Exam, and “whether to adopt alternative or additional testing or tools to ensure minimum competence to practice law."

Supreme Court clarifies citation of opinions rule (Apr 21, 2021)
The court issued Administrative Order 2021–04–21, which amends the comment to California Rules of Court, Rule 8.1115. In the future, when the court grants review of a published Court of Appeal decision, that decision’s treatment of any issue that is the subject of a split of authority among the Courts of Appeal will retain limited precedential status during review—allowing a superior court to choose to follow the review-granted decision’s approach to the issue. The order also clarifies that when the court grants review of a published Court of Appeal decision, then “vacates” the decision below and transfers the cause back to the Court of Appeal for reconsideration, the Court of Appeal’s decision will be rendered either “depublished” or “not citable,” unless the Supreme Court orders otherwise.

Court Issues Order for July 2021 Bar Exam to be Administered Online (Feb 26, 2021)
The Supreme Court of California on Friday issued an order to administer the July 2021 California Bar Examination online. The exam will take place on July 27 and 28, with the State Bar given discretion to grant in-person testing for those needing accommodations. The Supreme Court last year permanently lowered the passing score from 1440 to 1390.

Court Reappoints Two Members to the Commission on Judicial Performance (Feb 18, 2021)
The court reappointed two members to the Commission on Judicial Performance. Justice William S. Dato of the Fourth District Court of Appeal, Division One (San Diego) and Trinity County Judge Michael B. Harper will both begin their new four-year terms on March 1.

Court Reappoints Three Members to State Bar Trustees Nominating Committee (Feb 18, 2021)
The court reappointed three members to the State Bar Trustees Nominating Committee (TNC), which assists the court in soliciting and evaluating potential appointees to the State Bar Board of Trustees. Members reappointed are attorneys Jamon Hicks, Jerrilyn Malana, and Chris Alan Schneider, all to three-year terms beginning Feb. 7.

Court Expands Law License Pathway for Prior Examinees (Jan 28, 2021)
The California Supreme Court on Thursday issued an order expanding the pathway to a California law license, allowing thousands more law school graduates with qualifying prior bar exam scores to work as fully licensed attorneys after completing supervised practice hours. The Provisional Licensure program will be expanded to include those who scored 1390 or higher on any California Bar Exam dating back from February 2020 to July 2015.

Applications Open for Bar Exam Commission (Nov 13, 2020)
The State Bar of California has begun recruitment for members of the Joint Supreme Court/State Bar Blue Ribbon Commission on the Future of the California Bar Exam. Applications are being accepted until November 30. For more information, visit:

Court Approves Charter for Bar Exam Commission (Oct 26, 2020)
The Supreme Court of California approved a charter for the commission that will study the future of the Bar Exam, allowing the State Bar to begin recruitment for the group in November. The Joint Supreme Court/State Bar Blue Ribbon Commission on the Future of the California Bar Exam will develop recommendations “concerning whether and what changes to make to the California Bar Exam, and whether to adopt alternative or additional testing or tools to ensure minimum competence to practice law,” according to the charter.

Court Approves Provisional Licensing Program for 2020 Law School Graduates (Oct 22, 2020)
The Supreme Court of California approved a new rule creating the Provisional Licensure Program for 2020 law school graduates, after the COVID-19 health pandemic forced delay of the California Bar Examination. The court adopted Rule 9.49 of the California Rules of Court, which will take effect November 17. The program will continue until June 21, 2022 unless extended by the court.

California Supreme Court Names Jury Selection Work Group (Jul 6, 2020)
The Supreme Court of California on Monday named members to its Jury Selection Work Group to study changes or new measures to guard against impermissible discrimination in jury selection. The work group includes 11 judges and justices that represent the California Supreme Court, appellate courts and trial courts throughout the state. Over 12 to 15 months, work group members will study a broad range of topics related to jury selection, including diversity in California jury pools, changes to jury instructions and the impact of unconscious bias.

Supreme Court of California Issues Statement on Equality and Inclusion (Jun 11, 2020)
In view of recent events in our communities and through the nation, we are at an inflection point in our history. It is all too clear that the legacy of past injustices inflicted on African Americans persists powerfully and tragically to this day. Each of us has a duty to recognize there is much unfinished and essential work that must be done to make equality and inclusion an everyday reality for all. [Full statement].

Access to Records

Effective January 1, 2010, rule 10.500 of the California Rules of Court set forth comprehensive public access provisions applicable to judicial administrative records maintained by state trial and appellate courts, the state Supreme Court, as well as the Judicial Council of California (the Council).

The Council makes identifiable judicial administrative records available to receive and/or for inspection upon request unless the records are exempt from disclosure.

If you would like to request judicial administrative records maintained by the appellate courts or the Council, you are invited to submit a request by completing the Request for Judicial Administrative Records form and sending it by email, U.S. mail, by fax, or by telephone. Submitting a request in an alternate format may delay processing of your request. Individuals with disabilities may make requests in alternate formats. More information regarding accessibility issues as well as accommodations for individuals with disabilities, or those experiencing technical difficulties, can be found on our website by clicking this link.

Please note: the Council does NOT maintain records or documents related to specific cases filed in the courts of California. You will need to contact the court in which the record was originally filed to get this information. Documents or information held by the courts are as follows:

  • Divorce records
  • Court case records (e.g. opinions, briefs, complaints, filings)
  • Traffic tickets and other traffic violations
  • Jury service information or assistance
  • Probate-related records, including estates, conservatorships, and wills
  • Name change records

Each superior court also maintains its own administrative records. Please request a court's judicial administrative records directly from the court. Instructions on requesting records or access in alternate formats can be found on each local court's website. Find your local court.

For more information on the history and adoption of rule 10.500, please review: Public Access to Judicial Administrative Records (adopt Cal. Rules of Court, rules 10.500 and 10.501 repeal rule 10.802 and amend rule 10.803), December 7, 2009.

U.S. Supreme Court Sides with Property Owners in Dispute Over Abandoned Railroad Right of Way

In a case that piqued the interest of many throughout the West, including property owners and outdoor enthusiasts, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with a Wyoming property owner in a dispute over an abandoned railroad right of way. The case presented the question of what happens to a railroad’s right of way granted under the General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875 when the railroad abandons it: does it go to the Government or to the private party who acquired the land underlying the right of way? Reversing the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court ruled that the railroad’s abandoned right of way reverts to the private landowner.

The Supreme Court’s opinion begins with some extensive history regarding the settlement of the West and the federal land grant policies led to the present predicament. The opinion explained that to encourage early settlement and development of the West, Congress first passed acts giving railroad companies fee title to vast stretches of land (the land acquired by the Central Pacific – later the Southern Pacific – and the Union Pacific in exchange for their construction of the Transcontinental Railroad is a good example), but that following public complaints about the amount of land being given away, it passed the General Railroad Right–of–Way Act of 1875 to provide railroad companies only “right[s] of way through the public lands of the United States.” I.e., just the right to use the land – not fee title. One such right of way, granted to a railroad company in 1908, crosses land that the United States later conveyed to the Brandt family in a 1976 land patent. That patent specifically stated that the land was granted subject to the railroad’s rights in the 1875 Act, but it did not specify what would occur if the railroad later relinquished those rights. Years later, a successor railroad abandoned the right of way with federal approval. In 2006, the Government sought a judicial declaration of abandonment and an order quieting title in the United States to the abandoned right of way, including the stretch that crossed the land conveyed in the 1976 Brandt patent.

Petitioners contested the claim, asserting that the right of way was a mere easement that was extinguished when the railroad abandoned it, so that Brandt now enjoyed full title to his land without the burden of the easement. The Government countered that the 1875 Act granted the railroad something more than a “mere easement,” and that the United States retained a reversionary interest in that land once the railroad abandoned it.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the Government. Although it acknowledged a division among lower courts regarding the nature of the Government’s interest, if any, in abandoned General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875 rights of way, it concluded based on 10th Circuit precedent that the United States had retained an “implied reversionary interest” in the right of way, which then vested in the United States when the right of way was relinquished. The Supreme Court reversed.

The Supreme Court rejected the Government’s position, in large part because the Government had won when it argued the opposite before the Supreme Court more than 70 years ago, in the case of Great Northern Railway Co. v. United States (1942) 315 U.S. 262. There, the Government argued, and the Supreme Court agreed, that the 1875 Act granted nothing more than an easement to the railroad companies. Under Great Northern, therefore, the railroad had only an easement in its right of way over the land.

The Supreme Court then explained that, when the United States patented the parcel to the Brandt family in 1976, it conveyed fee simple title to that land, “subject to those rights for railroad purposes” that had been granted to the railroad. The United States did not reserve to itself any interest in the right of way in that patent.

After determining that the interest granted to the railroad was nothing more than an easement and that the U.S. retained no interest, the Court noted that the essential elements of easement, including what happens when they cease to be used, are well settled as a matter of property law. Applying basic common law principles, the Court determined that when the railroad abandoned the right of way, the easement referred to in the Brandt patent terminated. Brandt’s land became unburdened of the easement, conferring on him the same full rights over the right of way as he enjoyed over the rest of the parcel.

Justice Sotomayor issued a dissenting opinion arguing that the majority improperly brushed off pre- Great Northern precedent suggesting that the United States retained a reversionary interest in railroad rights of way and, to the extent the majority regarded Great Northern as having abrogated those precedents, it placed on Great Northern more weight than that case could bear. She also claimed that the majority erred by relying on basic common law principles without recognizing that railroad rights of way were not always governed by the ordinary common-law regime.

Justice Sotomayor also pointed out the negative practical implications of the majority’s opinion, claiming that it “undermines the legality of thousands of miles of former rights of way that the public now enjoys as means of transportation and recreation. And lawsuits challenging the conversion of former rails to recreational trails alone may well cost American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Echoing Justice Sotomayor, many rails-to-trails organizations have described the decision as a serious set-back to the hiking and bicycling trails system envisioned by Congress when it enacted the National Trails System Improvements Act of 1988 however, the decision appears to apply only to privately-held land transferred by the United States subject to an existing railroad easement that is subsequently abandoned. Many thousands of miles of trails along former railroad routes are situated on federal, state or local public lands, or on routes that were originally conveyed to the railroad companies in fee, rather than as easement. The decision does nothing more than confirm what has for centuries been the law of easements: an easement is a right to use another’s land for a specified purpose, and when the holder of the easement expressly or impliedly abandons its use, the easement no longer encumbers the underlying land.

The court decides that wiretapping is legal, no matter what the reason or motivation, because it is not expressly prohibited by the Constitution. Justice Brandeis' dissent, however, lays the groundwork for future understandings of privacy - one that conservative opponents of the idea of a "right to privacy" loudly oppose.

An Oklahoma law providing for the sterilization of people found to be "habitual criminals" is struck down, based on the idea that all people have a fundamental right to make their choices about marriage and procreation, despite the fact that no such right is explicitly written in the Constitution.

California land cases to the US Supreme Court - History

In three consolidated cases, Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California, Trump v. NAACP, and McAleenan v. Vidal, the Supreme Court considered whether the Trump Administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy is reviewable and, if so, whether the decision violated the law.

Case Summary

In June 2012, the Department of Homeland Security established the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, which authorizes the temporary deferred removal of “certain young people who were brought to this country as children.” Over the past seven years, almost 800,000 people have obtained protections under DACA, which also allows qualified recipients to apply for work permits. In September 2017, however, the Trump Administration announced that it was ending DACA, citing the policy’s supposed “legal and constitutional defects.” Soon after, Respondents in these cases filed three separate federal lawsuits in California, Washington, D.C., and New York, arguing that the decision to terminate DACA violates, among other things, the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), a law that prohibits agency action that is “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.” In November 2018, after the three district courts each concluded that the decision to end DACA was unlawful, the Trump Administration asked the Supreme Court to review the cases, even before any court of appeals had ruled on the issues. The Ninth Circuit subsequently upheld the lower court’s decision in one of the cases, and in June 2019, the Supreme Court agreed to hear all three cases together before the other two courts of appeals reached decisions.

CAC filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of current members and bipartisan former members of Congress (172 in all), arguing that DACA was a lawful exercise of executive discretion and that the Trump Administration’s decision to terminate DACA on the ground that it was unlawful therefore violated the APA. Our brief made two main points. First, we argued that DACA was a valid exercise of executive authority. Congress has long delegated significant discretion to the executive branch to implement the nation’s immigration laws and set enforcement priorities. And the executive branch has repeatedly exercised this broad discretion by granting deferred action on both an ad hoc basis and by establishing categorical threshold criteria for deferral, and Congress has consistently affirmatively approved of this practice. Accordingly, DACA was a lawful exercise of executive discretion.

Second, we explained that the Trump Administration’s decision to rescind DACA because it concluded that the policy was unlawful was itself in violation of the APA. The Trump Administration made clear in 2017 that it was ending DACA because it believed that the policy had “legal and constitutional defects.” It also asserted that a court would likely strike down DACA because the Fifth Circuit had enjoined another program called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) in a case called Texas v. United States, and the Supreme Court had affirmed that decision by an equally divided vote. But we explained that DACA is materially distinguishable from DAPA, and because DACA was a permissible—and, indeed, essential—exercise of the executive branch’s discretion in implementing the nation’s immigration laws, the Trump Administration violated the APA by rescinding DACA on the erroneous ground that the policy was unlawful.

The Supreme Court ruled that the Trump Administration’s decision to rescind DACA was arbitrary and capricious in violation of the APA. After determining that it could review the Administration’s decision, the Court turned to the merits and concluded that the DACA rescission was unlawful because the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security did not consider certain important matters in deciding whether to terminate the policy. Specifically, although the Administration had concluded that it was unlawful for DACA recipients to receive certain benefits, the Acting Secretary “offer[ed] no reason for terminating forbearance” as well. In other words, the Acting Secretary failed to consider the possibility of retaining the part of DACA that allows individuals to apply for temporary deferred action, which is distinct from the other benefits DACA recipients may receive. This critical shortcoming, paired with the Acting Secretary’s failure to address the “legitimate reliance” interests associated with DACA, led the Court to conclude that the Trump Administration’s decision to end the policy was “arbitrary and capricious in violation of the APA.”

Records of the Supreme Court of the United States

Established: By authority of the Judiciary Act of September 24, 1789 (1 Stat. 73), as provided for in article III, section 1, of the Constitution. Organized on February 2, 1790.

Functions: Adjudicates original or appellate jurisdiction cases arising under the Constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made under their authority cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers, and consuls cases of admiralty and maritime law controversies in which the United States is a party and cases arising between one state and citizens of another state, two or more states, citizens of different states, citizens of the same state claiming lands under grants of different states, or between a state or its citizens and foreign states, citizens, or subjects. Promulgates rules governing proceedings in bankruptcy, admiralty, and copyright cases appellate proceedings in criminal cases involving federal law or constitutional issues and criminal petty offense proceedings before U.S. commissioners.

Finding Aids: Marion Johnson, comp., Preliminary Inventory of the Records of the Supreme Court of the United States, PI 139 (1973) supplement in National Archives microfiche edition of preliminary inventories.

Related Records:
Record copies of publications of the U.S. Supreme Court in RG 287, Publications of the U.S. Government.
Records of District Courts of the United States, RG 21.
General Records of the Department of Justice, RG 60.
Records of U.S. Attorneys, RG 118.
Records of the Office of the Pardon Attorney, RG 204.
Records of the Solicitor of the Treasury, RG 206.
Records of the U.S. Courts of Appeals, RG 276.
Records of the United States Marshals Service, RG 527.

267.2 Records of the Court of Appeals in Cases of Capture

History: Appeals from state courts in cases of ships captured as prizes were heard by committees of the Continental Congress from 1776 to 1780. On January 15, 1780, the Congress established a Court of Appeals consisting of three judges to hear such cases. To the court were transferred pending appeals and related records. By the end of 1784 the court had acted on all cases before it, and in 1785 Congress suspended salary payments to the judges. The court was reconvened in 1786, and its last session was held on May 16, 1787. The records of the court were placed in the custody of the Supreme Court by an act of May 8, 1792 (1 Stat. 279).

Textual Records: Revolutionary War prize case files, 1776-86. Miscellaneous case papers, 1772-84, and court records, 1777-89.

Microfilm Publications: M162.

267.3 Records of the Supreme Court of the United States

267.3.1 General records

Textual Records: Engrossed minutes, 1790-1954. Rough minutes, 1790-1985. Journals, 1890-1981. Engrossed dockets and docket cards, 1791-1991. Microfilm copy of docket cards, 1982 (2 rolls). Rough dockets, 1803-1923. Manuscript opinions of Chief Justice John Marshall and Justices Joseph Story, Smith Thompson, and John McLean, 1832. Engrossed opinions, 1835-1914. Memorandums of pending cases, 1796-1974. Transcripts of oral arguments, 1968-88, 1990-95. Correspondence of the Committee on Equity Practice, 1911-12. Correspondence of law clerks, 1927-38.

Microfilm Publications: M215, M216, T57.

Sound Recordings: Oral arguments in cases before the court, 1955-97 (5,680 items). See also 267.8.

Specific Restrictions: As specified by the Supreme Court of the United States: (A) A copy of any audiotape shall be furnished to any Justice of the Supreme Court at any time upon request. (B) A copy of any audiotape may be furnished to any other person only after the National Archives has obtained a written statement from the requester detailing the purpose(s) for which the requester wishes to use the audiotape, and requester has signed a release form. If the Archives is of the view that the statement of purpose(s) reveals or may be understood to reveal a commercial purpose, the copy of the audiotape shall not be furnished the requester without the Archives first obtaining the approval of the Marshal of the Court. (C) The Archives may not identify the voices of members of the Supreme Court in connection with any use of any audiotape. (D) The Archives may not reproduce and furnish any audiotapes, or broadcast any audiotape by means of radio, television, or other similar medium, for any commercial purposes without first obtaining approval of the Marshal of the Court.

267.3.2 Appellate jurisdiction records

History: The appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court is defined in various statutes. Since the circuit courts of appeal give final decisions in the majority of cases, the Supreme Court usually hears only those cases that involve the construction or the constitutionality of legislative enactments or other issues of general importance.

Textual Records: Case files, 1792-1993, with index, 1792-1909. Manuscript and revised printed opinions, 1808-1913. Mandates to lower courts, 1830-1905. Certiorari cards, 1935-52.

Microfilm Publications: M214, M408.

Maps: Exhibits filed in zoning case, Baltimore, MD, 1929 (3 items). See also 267.6.

Architectural and Engineering Plans: Exhibits filed in zoning case, Baltimore, MD, 1929 (11 items). See also 267.6.

267.3.3 Original jurisdiction records

History: The Supreme Court has original jurisdiction over cases involving ambassadors, ministers, and consuls, and those in which a state is a party.

Textual Records: Case files, 1792-1993. Manuscript and revised printed opinions, 1835-1909.

Maps: Exhibits in original jurisdiction cases, 1851-1980 (6,699 items). See also 267.6.

Architectural and Engineering Plans: Exhibits in original jurisdiction cases, 1851-1980 (889 items). See also 267.6.

Motion Pictures: Exhibits in original jurisdiction cases, 1939-66 (5 reels).

Sound Recordings: Informal hearings in original jurisdiction case Arizona v. California, March 24, 1979 (2 items). See also 267.8.

267.3.4 Records relating to ex parte and miscellaneous cases

Textual Records: Papers in habeas corpus cases heard in chambers, 1861, 1869, 1881, and 1882. Ex parte and miscellaneous case files, 1925-53. Applications for action by the court, 1929-91.

267.4 Records of the Office of the Clerk

History: Clerk appointed under authority of the Judiciary Act of 1789 to record the decrees, judgments, and determinations of the court.

267.4.1 General records

Textual Records: General correspondence, 1791-1941. Letters to and from justices, 1791-1940. Correspondence relating to the appointment of stenographic clerks, 1888-1940 the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, 1939-42 and the appointment of advisory committees on rules of criminal and civil procedure, 1941-42. Correspondence with the General Accounting Office, 1949- 56. Subject file, 1800-1910. Oaths of office of justices, 1823- 1910 and Supreme Court officers, 1827-1907. Orders concerning Supreme Court rules, 1792-1959. Allotment orders of circuits to justices, 1796-1946. Records relating to printing and binding, 1865-1954. Scrapbooks, 1880-1935. Indexes to names of attorneys admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court, 1790-1955. Attorney rolls, 1790-1961.

Microfilm Publications: M217.

267.4.2 Fiscal records

Textual Records: Fee books, 1818-1934. Fee bonds, 1832-89. Bills and accounts of costs against the United States, 1803-86 and private parties, 1830-1900. Receipts for disbursements, 1827-90. Printers' bills, 1831-1957. Records of deposits for printing, 1888-96. Record of daily receipts and expenditures ("Day Book"), 1898-1926. Correspondence relating to the Clerk's accounts, 1856- 1938.

267.5 Records of the Office of the Marshal

History: Until 1867, the marshal of the district in which the Supreme Court sat acted as the Marshal of the Supreme Court and had the duty of executing its precepts. By an act of March 2, 1867 (14 Stat. 433), the Supreme Court was given the power to appoint its own marshal to take charge of government property used by the court, and to execute the process and orders of the court.

Textual Records: Subject files, 1864-1913. Applications and endorsements for positions, 1867-1909. Accounting records, 1867- 1936. Correspondence relating to books, 1887-1910. Library accounting records, 1896-1910. General correspondence, 1867-1940.

267.6 Cartographic Records (General)

See Maps under 267.3.2 and 267.3.3.
See Architectural and Engineering Plans under 267.3.2 and 267.3.3.

267.7 Motion Pictures (General)

267.8 Sound Recordings (General)

See under 267.3.1 and 267.3.3.

Bibliographic note: Web version based on Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States. Compiled by Robert B. Matchette et al. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1995.
3 volumes, 2428 pages.

This Web version is updated from time to time to include records processed since 1995.

4 U.S. Supreme Court Cases Where Asian Americans Fought For Civil Rights

Court decisions can change the course of history. And while the "model minority" myth often characterizes Asians living in the U.S. as hard-working, successful and cooperative citizens, historically, many have had to fight unjust laws to be recognized as full-fledged Americans. From questions of land ownership to immigration, here are four cases where Asian Americans fought injustice in the courts.

Asian American And Pacific Islander Heritage Month

6 Charts That Dismantle The Trope Of Asian Americans As A Model Minority

Chy Lung v. Freeman

A California law passed in 1875 authorized state immigration officials to inspect people coming to the state and screen out those deemed "lewd and debauched." These individuals would be denied entry to the U.S. unless the captain of the ship transporting them paid a bond for them.

Chy Lung was one of 22 women detained aboard a ship from China in 1875. The women were denied entry because they had traveled to the country without their husbands or children.

Chy Lung challenged the constitutionality of the law, and the Supreme Court ruled in her favor, saying that the power to set immigration laws rested with the federal government.

Code Switch

Asian-American Lawyers Act Like '22 Lewd Chinese Women'

United States v. Wong Kim Ark

In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited Chinese laborers from immigrating to the U.S. for ten years. It was extended for another 10 years by the Geary Act, and became permanent in 1902. It wasn't repealed until 1943.

Wong Kim Ark was born in 1873 in the U.S. to Chinese parents who were legally domiciled residents in San Francisco. At 21, he visited China and was denied entry to the U.S. upon his return due to the Chinese Exclusion Act. In his 1897 Supreme Court Case, Wong argued he was a U.S. citizen under the Fourteenth Amendment, which declared "all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."

The court decided in Wong's favor, defining the parameters for jus soli, ensuring the citizenship of children born in the U.S. to non-citizen parents. The concept is popularly known as birthright citizenship.

Left: Wong Kim Ark, in a photograph taken from a 1904 U.S. immigration document. Right: Sergeant Bhagat Singh Thind in U.S. Army uniform during World War I at Camp Lewis, Washington, in 1918. Thind, an American Sikh, was the first U.S. serviceman to be allowed for religious reasons to wear a turban as part of his military uniform. National Archives/Public Domain United States Army hide caption

Left: Wong Kim Ark, in a photograph taken from a 1904 U.S. immigration document. Right: Sergeant Bhagat Singh Thind in U.S. Army uniform during World War I at Camp Lewis, Washington, in 1918. Thind, an American Sikh, was the first U.S. serviceman to be allowed for religious reasons to wear a turban as part of his military uniform.

Ozawa v. United States

The Naturalization Act of 1790 set up the first set of rules for U.S. citizenship. The law limited citizenship to "any Alien being a free white person" who had lived "within the limits and under the jurisdiction of the United States for the term of two years" and could prove they were a "person of good character."

Takao Ozawa was a Japanese immigrant who challenged the definition of a "free white person" after applying for citizenship in Hawaii in 1914. He was denied on the grounds that he was ineligible because he was Japanese.

The Supreme Court ruled against Ozawa in 1922. Justice George Sutherland delivered the opinion. He argued against defining who was white by just the "mere color of skin," as skin tone varied too greatly even "among persons of the same race." Thus, Sutherland wrote that "to adopt the color test alone would result in a confused overlapping of races and a gradual merging of one into the other, without any practical line of separation." He argued that people considered "white" should be "confined to persons of the Caucasian Race."

United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind

In 1923, Justice Sutherland contradicted his own opinion in Ozawa v. United States in the case against Bhahat Singh Thind.

Thind, a Sikh immigrant from India, applied for and was granted citizenship in the state of Oregon. However, a naturalization examiner appealed an Oregon District Court decision in favor of Thind's application on the grounds that he was not white.

In his Supreme Court Case, Thind argued that he was of "high-caste Hindu stock, born in Punjab, one of the extreme northwestern districts of India, and classified by certain scientific authorities as of the Caucasian or Aryan race."

The court ruled against Thind, with Sutherland writing that the phrase "free white persons" should only be considered "synonymous with the word 'Caucasian' only as that word is popularly understood." The Court essentially ruled that in addition to being of Caucasian decent, individuals must have white skin tone to gain citizenship.

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