Painlessly posthumous admission

In re Chang, No. S-223736 (Cal. Mar. 16, 2015).

Hong Yen Chang

Hong Yen Chang

Hong Yen Chang was born in China but immigrated to the United States in 1872. After going to the finest schools and earning the highest marks, he became a naturalized citizen and was admitted to the New York bar.

He then moved to California. The California Supreme Court rejected his application for admission. Under the Chinese Exclusion Act, Chang couldn’t lawfully be naturalized; and without citizenship, he couldn’t (at that time) become a member of the California bar. 

In an opinion issued today, the California Supreme Court reverses its earlier decision, noting that its decision was issued in a climate of intense anti-Chinese prejudice, and that it is now “constitutionally indefensible” to forbid noncitizens to practice law. On the motion of Chang’s descendants and an association of Asian-American law students at U.C. Davis, the California Supreme Court grants Chang posthumous admission to the California bar.

But isn’t the better solution for the California Bar to award financial compensation to Chang’s descendants—say, in an amount equal to the income that Chang lost by being denied admission, along with appropriate interest? It seems to me that granting posthumous admission is a painless act that allows the California Supreme Court to pat itself on the back without really righting any wrongs.