On Precedent and Progeny: A Response to Professor Gabriel J. Chin's 'Unexplainable on Grounds of Race' - Doubts About Yick Wo
Lenese C. Herbert
Albany Law School; Howard University School of Law
University of Illinois Law Review, Vol. 5, pp. 1415-1426, 2008
Although Yick Wo v. Hopkins is celebrated as a classic equal protection case, establishing the rule against discriminatory prosecutions, Professor Gabriel Chin lamented that it was the first and last case that invalidated a racially-motivated criminal prosecution and did so not based on race, but because the property interest at state was constitutionally protected. In an invited Response to Professor Chin’s criticism, this Article disagrees with his criticism of Yick Wo. Focusing so heavily on Yick Wo and its lack of progeny ignore the true brokers of constitutional protections or minimizing them as an afterthought: the Court (which, strangely, ignored its own precedent, allowing it to remain dormant and waft into desuetude, despite repeated citation of it by lower courts) and, to a lesser extent, criminal prosecutors (whose unchecked discretion allows the freedom not to bring charges). Given the Court’s incubation in an immature country with a well-documented history of eschewing of racial equality, it is little wonder that despite Yick Wo’s availability as a tool that could be deployed in a rejection of segregation on the merits, it was not. Nevertheless, that Yick Wo was decided and continues to be hailed as a seminal decision in equal protection law and lore, it remains difficult to argue convincingly that the cause of justice would have been advanced, had Yick Wo never been decided.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 12
Keywords: Yick Wo, Constitutional Protections
Date posted: February 3, 2010