Oyama v. California
Decided on Jan. 19, 1948; 332 US 633


I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed: Racial discrimination

B. Legal Question Presented:

Does the Alien Land Law, applied in this case, deprive Petitioner of the equal protection of California's law and of his privileges as an American citizen?

II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

Kajiro Oyama, Fred Oyama's (Petitioner) father, bought in 1934 six acres of agricultural land in Southern California, when Petitioner was 6 years old. The deed was executed to Petitioner. In 1937, a second parcel of land, adjoining the first one, was bought by Kajiro for Fred. As Petitioner's guardian, Kajiro was managing the land on his behalf.

"From the time of the two transfers until the date of trial, however, Kajiro Oyama did not file the annual reports which the Alien Land Law requires of all guardians of agricultural land belonging to minor children of ineligible aliens. In 1942, Fred and his family were evacuated from the Pacific Coast along with all other persons of Japanese descent. And in 1944, when Fred was sixteen and still forbidden to return home, the State filed a petition to declare an escheat of the two parcels on the ground that the conveyances in 1934 and 1937 had been with intent to violate and evade the Alien Land Law."

The trial court... findings were based primarily on four inferences: (1) the statutory presumption that any conveyance is with 'intent to prevent, evade or avoid' escheat if an ineligible alien pays the consideration; (2) an inference of similar intent from the mere fact that the conveyances ran to a minor child; (3) an inference of lack of bona fide at the time of the original transactions from the fact that the father thereafter failed to file annual guardianship reports; and (4) an inference from the father's failure to testify that his testimony would have been adverse to his son's cause."

The Supreme Court of California agreed with trial court's finding. On certiorari the US Supreme Court reversed.

B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Messrs. A. L. Wirin, of Los Angeles, Cal., and Dean G. Acheson, of Washington, DC, for petitioners. Messrs. Everett W. Mattoon, of Los Angeles, CA, and Duane J. Carnes, of San Diego, CA, respondents.
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"In broad outline, the Alien Land Law forbids aliens ineligible for American citizenship to acquire, own, occupy, lease, or transfer agricultural land. It also provides that any property acquired in violation of the statute shall escheat as of the date of acquisition and that the same result shall follow any transfer made with 'intent to prevent, evade or avoid' escheat. In addition, that intent is presumed, prima facie, whenever an ineligible alien pays the consideration for a transfer to a citizen or eligible alien.

We agree with petitioners' first contention, that the Alien Land Law, as applied in this case, deprives Fred Oyama (Petitioner) of the equal protection of California's laws and of his privileges as an American citizen. In our view of the case, the State has discriminated against Fred Oyama; the discrimination is based solely on his parents' country of origin; and there is absent the compelling justification which would be needed to sustain discrimination of that nature.

The California law purports to permit citizen sons to take gifts of agricultural land from their fathers, regardless of the fathers' nationality. Yet, as indicated by this case, if the father is ineligible for citizenship, facts which would usually be considered indicia of the son's ownership are used to make that ownership suspect; if the father is not an ineligible alien, however, the same facts would be evidence that a completed gift was intended.

The cumulative effect, we believe, was clearly to discriminate against Fred Oyama... The only basis for this discrimination against an American citizen, moreover, was the fact that his father was Japanese and not American, Russian, Chinese, or English. But for that fact alone, Fred Oyama, now a little over a year from majority, would be the undisputed owner of the eight acres in question."

The US Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Supreme Court of California.

Justice Vote: 6 Pro vs. 3 Con

  • Vinson, F.Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Murphy, F. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Rutledge, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Black, H. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Douglas, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Frankfurter, F. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Jackson, R.Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Reed, S. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Burton, H. Con (Joined dissenting opinion)
  • V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

    The ACLU, as counsel of record, urged reversal of the judgment of the Supreme Court of California; the Supreme Court reversed in a 6-3 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win .