In People v. Hall, 4 Cal. 399 (1854), Chief Justice Hugh C. Murray, joined by Justice Solomon Heydenfeldt, held that Chinese people could not testify in California’s courts. Why not? Murray based his decision on an 1850 law which declared that “No Black, or Mulatto person, or Indian, shall be allowed to give evidence in favor of, or against a white man.” But this law also applied to the Chinese, because
When Columbus first landed upon the shores of this continen...he imagined that he had accomplished the object of his expedition, and that the Island of San Salvador was one of those Islands of the Chinese sea.... Acting upon this hypothesis...he gave to the Islanders the name of Indians.... From that time, down to a very recent period, the American Indians and the Mongolian, or Asiatic, were regarded as the same type of the human species.
Id. at 400. So the Chinese are Indians. He goes on to discuss whether “modern” science has justified this opinion; the evidence isn’t clear, he says, but “the name of Indian, from the time of Columbus to the present day, has been used to designate, not alone the North American Indian, but the whole of the Mongolian race, and that the name, though first applied probably through mistake, was afterwards continued as appropriate on account of the supposed common origin.” Id. at 402.
As if this weren’t enough, Murray continues:
[E]ven in a doubtful case we would be impelled to this decision on grounds of public policy. The same rule which would admit them to testify, would admit them to all the equal rights of citizenship, and we might soon see them at the polls, in the jury box, upon the bench, and in our legislative halls. This is not a speculation which exists in the excited and over-heated imagination of the patriot and statesman, but it is an actual and present danger. The anomalous spectacle of a distinct people, living in our community, recognizing no laws of this State except through necessity, bringing with them their prejudices and national feuds, in which they indulge in open violation of law; whose mendacity is proverbial; a race of people whom nature has marked as inferior, and who are incapable of progress or intellectual development beyond a certain point, as their history has shown; differing in language, opinions, color, and physical conformation; between whom and ourselves nature has placed an impassable difference, is now presented, and for them is claimed, not only the right to swear away the life of a citizen, but the further privilege of participating with us in administering the affairs of our Government.
Id. at 404-05.
As Elmer Clarence Sandmeyer notes in The Anti-Chinese Movement in California (1973), this was practically a declaration of war against the Chinese, since violence against them would usually only be witnessed by the Chinese, who then could not give evidence against the perpetrators.
Oh, and although Hall has not been expressly overruled, the State Supreme Court repudiated it only in 1948, in Perez v. Lippold, 32 Cal.2d 711, itself a remarkable opinion which struck down California’s anti-miscegenation law.