Field, August 1879

Field better eyes

“Having appeared before my brother upon several occasions,” David said, “I am familiar with his style, and the subjects of several of his rulings. If we are to be successful in running Stephen for President, we are obliged to consider — in advance — whether his opponents may seize upon something in any of his opinions for the Supreme Court to stain his reputation.”

“There is the queue ordinance that Justice Field struck down,” Deady said.

“What did the ordinance require?” David asked.

“It required that all male prisoners have their hair cut to a maximum length of one inch,” Field responded.

Cyrus laughed.  “That hardly seems an imposition.  If jail is attractive to a man because he saves money, acquires shelters, and is served free food, then adding a haircut into the bargain seems rather more attractive and not less.”

“You are forgetting something about the Chinese,” Field said.  “The men prefer to wear their hair in a long braid, or a queue, as part of their culture and tradition.  Loss of the braid subjects them to great shame, both in this life and the next.  And so it was when a Chinamen was incarcerated under this ordinance, and his braid cut off, he filed suit.”

“I can hardly believe that his suit had any merit,” Cyrus said.

“It certainly did!”  Field remonstrated with his brother.  “This was legislation directed against a particular class of persons, imposing burdens upon them unlike those visited upon any other.  You said it yourself — what seemed to you to be a personal service provided gratis is to these men a grave affront.  That ordinance was properly and duly struck down.”

“On what reasoning?” David broke in.

“Reasoning?” Field explained. “This was not a matter of reason. When we take our seats on the bench we are not struck with blindness, and forbidden to know as judges what we see as men! When an ordinance such as this only operates against a special race, we are entitled to conclude that it was the intention of those adopting it to single out that special race. The legislation was hostile and spiteful — legislation which is unworthy of a brave and manly people.”

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