British Imperialism, the Indian Independence Movement, and the Racial Eligibility Provisions of the Naturalization Act: United States v. Thind Revisited
Georgetown Journal of Law & Modern Critical Race Perspectives 7 (2015): 1-42
42 Pages Posted: 26 May 2015
Date Written: May 25, 2015
This article reexamines the United States Supreme Court’s opinion in United States v. Thind, which held that high caste Hindus were not “white persons” and were therefore racially ineligible for naturalized citizenship, through a rhetorical history of the briefs, judicial opinions, National Archives and Records Administration documents, and British intelligence documents related to the case. As the Court’s final statement on the racial eligibility provisions of the early Naturalization Act, Thind has been the subject of significant scholarly commentary regarding race and citizenship in the United States and heralded as a crucial Asian American civil rights case. The article begins by analyzing the case’s overruling of the majority of lower courts which had found high caste Hindus to be racially eligible for naturalization, two of which the Court had expressly approved of only three months earlier in Ozawa v. United States, a reversal of the Court’s own position not addressed in Thind or by prior studies of the case. In an effort to account for this reversal, the article considers Thind’s political activities in furtherance of Indian independence and the effort of British and American intelligence officials to oppose his naturalization on the basis of his political activities, the parties’ competing citations of British authorities on the significance of India’s caste system for the racial classification of Asian Indians, and how Justice Sutherland’s opinion both responds to and evades the arguments in the case in a manner that suggests a political decision. The article concludes by considering the rhetorical dimensions of race, citizenship, and law.
Keywords: United States v. Thind, Ozawa v. United States, rhetoric, race, citizenship, nationality, nationalism, immigration, naturalization, civil rights, India, caste, Indian Independence, Ghadr, British imperialism, identity, identification
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