Soon Hing v. Crowley
113 U.S. 703 (1885)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Soon Hing v. Crowley, 113 U.S. 703 (1885)

Soon Hing v. Crowley

Submitted January 28, 1885

Decided March 16, 1885

113 U.S. 703


The decision in Barbier v. Connelly, ante, 113 U. S. 27, that a municipal ordinance prohibiting from washing and ironing in public laundries and wash houses within defined territorial limits from ten o'clock at night to six in the morning is a police regulation within the competency of a municipality possessed of ordinary powers, affirmed.

It is no objection to a municipal ordinance prohibiting one kind of business within certain hours that it permits other and different kinds of business to be done within those hours.

Municipal restrictions imposed upon one class of persons engaged in a particular business which are not imposed upon others engaged in the same business and under like conditions impair the equal rights which all can claim in the enforcement of the laws.

Then the general security and welfare require that a particular kind of work should be done at certain times or hours, and an ordinance is made to that effect, a person engaged in performing that sort of work has no inherent right to pursue his occupation during the prohibited time.

Page 113 U. S. 704

This Court cannot inquire into the motives of legislators in enacting laws except as they may be disclosed on the face of the acts or be inferable from their operation, considered with reference to the condition of the country and existing legislation.

The petitioner in the court below, the plaintiff in error here, was arrested by the defendant, who is Chief of Police of the City and County of San Francisco, for an alleged violation of an ordinance of the board of supervisors of that municipality, approved on the 18th of June, 1883, and while in custody of the officer applied to the circuit court of the United States for a writ of habeas corpus in order to obtain his discharge. The circuit court refused to issue the writ, the judges of the court being divided in opinion and that of the presiding judge controlling.

The ordinance was adopted to regulate the establishment and maintenance of public laundries and wash houses within certain limits of the City and County of San Francisco. It recited that the indiscriminate establishment of such laundries and wash houses, where clothes and other articles were cleansed for hire, endangered the public health and public safety, prejudiced the wellbeing and comfort of the community, and depreciated the value of property in their neighborhood. It then ordained, pursuant to the authority vested in the board, that after its passage it should be unlawful for any person to establish, maintain, or carry on the business of a public laundry or a public wash house within certain designated limits of the city and county without having first obtained a certificate of the health officer of the municipality that the premises were properly and sufficiently drained, and that all proper arrangements were made to carry on the business without injury to the sanitary condition of the neighborhood, and also a certificate of the board of fire wardens of the municipality that the stoves, washing and drying apparatus, and the appliances for heating smoothing-irons were in good condition, and that their use was not dangerous to surrounding property from fire, and that all proper precautions were taken to comply with the provisions of the ordinance defining the fire limits of the city and county, and making regulations concerning the erection and

Page 113 U. S. 705

use of buildings therein. The ordinance requires the health officer and the board of wardens, upon the application of anyone desirous to open or conduct the business of a public laundry, to inspect the premises in which it is proposed to carry on the business in order to ascertain whether they are provided with proper drainage and sanitary appliances, and whether the provisions of the fire ordinance have been complied with, and if found satisfactory in all respects, to issue to the applicant the required certificates, without charge for the services rendered.

Its fourth section declares that no person owning or employed in a public laundry or a public wash house within the prescribed limits shall wash or iron clothes between the hours of ten in the evening and six in the morning, or upon any portion of Sunday, and its fifth section declares that no person engaged in the laundry business within those limits shall permit anyone suffering from an infectious or contagious disease to lodge, sleep, or remain upon the premises. The violation of any of these provisions is declared to be a misdemeanor, and penalties are prescribed according to the nature of the offense. The establishing, maintaining, or carrying on the business without obtaining the certificate is punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000 or by imprisonment of not more than six months or by both. Carrying on the business outside of the hours prescribed or permitting persons with contagious diseases on the premises is punishable by a fine of not less than $5 or more than $50 or by imprisonment of not more than one month or by both such fine and imprisonment.

The petitioner was arrested by the chief of police upon a warrant to a police judge of the municipality, issued upon a complaint under oath, that the petitioner had washed and ironed clothes in a public laundry within the prescribed limits between the hours of ten o'clock in the evening of the 25th of February, 1884, and six o'clock in the morning of the following day, thereby violating the provisions of section 4 of the ordinance. The petition for the writ of habeas corpus presented to the judges of the circuit court sets forth the arrest and detention

Page 113 U. S. 706

of the petitioner by the chief of police, the ordinance under which the arrest was made, the complaint before the police judge, and the issue of the warrant under which he was taken into custody. It then proceeds to state that the petitioner has for several years been engaged in working for hire in a public laundry in the City and County of San Francisco, and has in all respects complied with the laws of the United States and of California and the ordinances of the city and county except in washing at the hours mentioned; that the business of carrying on a laundry is a lawful one, in which a large number of the subjects of the Emperor of China have been and are engaged in the said city and county within the limits prescribed by the ordinance; that there have been for several years great antipathy and hatred on the part of the residents of that city and county against the subjects of China residing and doing business there; that such antipathy and hatred have manifested themselves in various ways and under various forms for the purpose of compelling the subjects of China to quit and abandon their business and residence in the city and county and state; that owing to that feeling, and not otherwise, and not for any sanitary, police, or other legitimate purpose, but in order to force those subjects engaged in carrying on the business of a laundry in the City and County of San Francisco to abandon the exercise of their lawful vocation and their only means of livelihood, the supervisors passed the ordinance in question; that the petitioner has been and is earning his living exclusively by working at washing and ironing for hire, and in order to gain a livelihood is obliged to work late in the night, and has no other lawful vocation; that on the first of January, 1884, his employer paid the license collector of the city and county six dollars, the amount required by the ordinance to obtain a license to carry on the business of a laundry, and obtained from him a license to carry on the business at a designated place within the prescribed limits. The petition also avers that section four of the ordinance is in contravention of the provisions of the Burlingame Treaty and of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States in that it deprives them of the equal protection of the laws.

Page 113 U. S. 707

On the hearing of the application for the writ, certain questions arose upon which the judges of the circuit court were divided in opinion. They are as follows:

1. Whether section four of the ordinance mentioned is void on the ground that it is not within the police power of the Board of Supervisors of the City and County of San Francisco.

2. Whether said section is void on the ground that it discriminates between those engaged in the laundry business and those engaged in other classes of business.

3. Whether said section is void on the ground that it discriminates between the different classes of persons engaged in the laundry business.

4. Whether said section is void on the ground that it deprives a man of the right to labor at all times.

5. Whether said section is void on the ground that it is unreasonable in its requirements, in restraint of trade, or upon any other ground apparent upon the face of the ordinance, or appearing in the petition.

The opinion of the presiding judge being that the said section was valid and constitutional, the application for the writ was denied, and the judgment entered upon the denial is brought to this Court for review.

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