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Law has long been acknowledged as central to the Chinese experience in nineteenth century America, but legal historians have only recently shown a revived interest in this subject. Most of this renewed interest has focused on the experience of the Chinese before the courts and their efforts as a beleaguered minority to secure judicial protection from the discrimination they faced. Nonetheless, relatively little attention has been given to the many thousands of habeas corpus cases brought by the Chinese after 1882 in California's federal courts. San Francisco's federal judges sought to hear Chinese habeas corpus cases with judicial fairness and offered-for a time at least-protection from some of the most virulent opponents of the Chinese. A series of laws restricting Chinese immigration, beginning in 1882, served as an immediate cause of disputes over the validity of detaining Chinese petitioners. Two judges in particular, Ogden Hoffman of the Northern District of California, and Lorenzo Sawyer, the state's presiding circuit judge, played prominent roles in this habeas corpus litigation, and their courtrooms were referred to as “the habeas corpus mill.”

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American Journal of Legal History



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