Attempt to Strip Japanese Americans of Voting Rights

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Headline NewsHeadline NewsAttempting to capitalize on the unprecedented anti-Japanese sentiment stirred by World War II and the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans from the west coast, John T. Regan, grand secretary of the Native Sons of the Golden West, sued Cameron King, the registrar of voters for the City and County of San Francisco, in late Spring 1942 in federal court. Regan sought to prevent Japanese Americans from voting in Alameda and San Francisco counties. Regan claimed that Nisei, the America-born children of Japanese immigrants, were citizens of Japan and that their ballots diluted the voting strength of the white majority. Reagan v. King directly challenged the 1898 U.S. Supreme Court decision in United States v. Wong Kim Ark, which affirmed that any person born in the United States, regardless of race or ethnicity, is a United States citizen.

"Of the whites, by the whites, for the whites"

Former California Attorney General Ulysses S. Webb, as counsel for the Native Sons, argued the case before federal judge Adolphus F. St. Sure and charged that the Wong Kim Ark decision was "one of the most injurious and unfortunate decisions" ever handed down by the court. He further argued that the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which defines citizenship rights, applied only to children whose parents were eligible for citizenship and therefore only included white persons and African Americans. As if the racist intent behind the lawsuit were not already clear, Webb made it explicit by saying, "This is a white man's country, and is yet a white man's government, if the laws be properly construed." Unmoved by Webb's racial rhetoric, Judge St. Sure dismissed the case on the grounds that the court was bound by the Wong Kim Ark decision.

The Native Sons appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where the case was argued in conjunction with the three other cases dealing with violations of military curfew and exclusion orders against Japanese Americans. Arguments in Reagan v. King were heard first. Recognizing that he would have to undermine the Wong Kim Ark decision in order to have any sway with the court, Webb asserted that Wong was erroneously decided and therefore the court was nManzanar Flag SaluteManzanar Flag Saluteot bound by its precedent. He also argued that historically the American colonies were settled exclusively by Europeans, and that the American government was organized "by the whites, of the whites, and for the whites."

Court Retains Nisei Voting Rights

Although the court had granted ACLU of Southern California attorney A.L. Wirin, representing the Japanese American Citizens League and the ACLU, special permission to participate in oral arguments opposing the suit, it was not necessary for him to present his case. Immediately after Webb concluded his argument, the judges, with the audience still in attendance, held a hurried, whispered conference without leaving the bench. They soon announced that it was unnecessary for opposing counsel to argue. Senior circuit judge Curtis Wilbur, speaking for the entire court, peremptorily ruled: "The judgment of the trial court is affirmed." Nisei were assured of their citizenship.

This decision, however, did not set a trend of legal triumphs for the Nisei who affirmatively challenged the military's curfew and exclusion orders targeting Japanese Americans.

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