ERROR to the Supreme Court of the State of California.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mr. Justice Miller delivered the opinion of the court.
Mr. Attorney-General Pierrepont for the plaintiff in error.
While this case presents for out consideration the same class of State statutes considered in Henderson et al. v. Mayor of the City of New York et al., and Commissioners of Immigration v. North German Lloyd, supra, p. 259, it differs from them in two very important points.
These are, First, The plaintiff in error was a passenger on a vessel from China, being a subject of the Emperor of China, and is held a prisoner because the owner or master of the vessel who brought her over refused to give a bond in the sum of $500 in gold, conditioned to indemnify all the counties, towns, and cities of California against liability for her support or maintenance for two years.
Secondly, The statute of California, unlike those of New York and Louisiana, does not require a bond for all passengers landing from a foreign country, but only for classes of passengers specifically described, among which are 'lewd and debauched women;' to which class it is alleged plaintiff belongs.
The plaintiff, with some twenty other women, on the arrival of the steamer 'Japan' from China, was singled out by the Commissioner of Immigration, an officer of the State of California, as belonging to that class, and the master of the vessel required to give the bond prescribed by law before he permitted them to land. This he refused to do, and detained them on board. They sued out a writ of habeas corpus, which by regular proceedings resulted in their committal, by order of the Supreme Court of the State, to the custody of the sheriff of the county and city of San Francisco, to await the return of the 'Japan,' which had left the port pending the progress of the case; the order being to remand them to that vessel on her return, to be removed from the State.
All of plaintiff's companions were released from the custody of the sheriff on a writ of habeas corpus issued by Mr. Justice Field of this court. But plaintiff by a writ of error brings the judgment of the Supreme Court of California to this court, for the purpose, as we suppose, of testing the constitutionality of the act under which she is held a prisoner. We regret very much, that, while the Attorney-General of the United States has deemed the matter of such importance as to argue it in person, there has been no argument in behalf of the State of California, the Commissioner of Immigration, or the Sheriff of San Francisco, in support of the authority by which plaintiff is held a prisoner; nor have we been furnished even with a brief in support of the statute of that State.
It is a most extraordinary statute. It provides that the Commissioner of Immigration is 'to satisfy himself whether or not any passenger who shall arrive in the State by vessels from any foreign port or place (who is not a citizen of the United States) is lunatic, idiotic, deaf, dumb, blind, crippled, or infirm, and is not accompanied by relatives who are able and willing to support him, or is likely to become a public charge, or has been a pauper in any other country, or is from sickness or disease (existing either at the time of sailing from the port of departure or at the time of his arrival in the State) a public charge, or likely soon to become so, or is a convicted criminal, or a lewd or debauched woman;' and no such person shall be permitted to land from the vessel, unless the master or owner or consignee shall give a separate bond in each case, conditioned to save harmless every county, city, and town of the State against any expense incurred for the relief, support, or care of such person for two years thereafter.
The commissioner is authorized to charge the sum of seventy-five cents for every examination of a passenger made by him; which sum he may collect of the master, owner, or consignee, or of the vessel by attachment. The bonds are to be prepared by the commissioner, and two sureties are required to each bond, and, for preparing the bond, the commissioner is allowed to charge and collect a fee of three dollars; and for each oath administered to a surety, concerning his sufficiency as such, he may charge one dollar. It is expressly provided that there shall be a separate bond for each passenger; that there shall be two sureties on each bond, and that the same sureties must not be on more than one bond; and they must in all cases be residents of the State.
If the ship-master or owner prefers, he may commute for these bonds by paying such a sum of money as the commissioner may in each case think proper to exact; and, after retaining twenty per cent of the commutation-money for his services, the commissioner is required once a month to deposit the balance with the Treasurer of the State. See c. 1, art. 7, of the Political Code of California, as modified by sect. 70 of the amendments of 1873, 1874.
If is hardly possible to conceive a statute more skilfully framed, to place in the hands of a single man the power to prevent entirely vessels engaged in a foreign trade, say with China, from carrying passengers, or to compel them to submit to systematic extortion of the grossest kind.
The commissioner has but to go aboard a vessel filled with passengers ignorant of our language and our laws, and without trial or hearing or evidence, but from the external appearances of persons with whose former habits he is unfamiliar, to point with his finger to twenty, as in this case, or a hundred if he chooses, and say to the master, 'These are idiots, these are paupers, these are convicted criminals, these are lewd women, and these others are debauched women. I have here a hundred blank forms of bonds, printed. I require you to fill me up and sign each of these for $500 in gold, and that you furnish me two hundred different men, residents of this State, and of sufficient means, as sureties on these bonds. I charge you five dollars in each case for preparing the bond and swearing your sureties; and I charge you seventy-five cents each for examining these passengers, and all others you have on board. If you don't do this, you are forbidden to land your passengers under a heavy penalty. But I have the power to commute with you for all this for any sum I may choose to take in cash. I am open to an offer; for you must remember that twenty per cent of all ...