Lesson Plan: Landmark Supreme Court Case: Yick Wo v. Hopkins (1886)

Landmark Case Yick Wo v. Hopkins: The Basic Facts

South Texas College of Law Professor Josh Blackman explains the foundation of this case.


The Court's decision in this was seen as trailblazing -- it struck down legislation aimed at closing Chinese-operated laundries in San Francisco and guaranteed non-citizens the Constitution's protections. It was the first case to use the "equal protection" clause of the 14th Amendment, which prohibits states from denying any person within their jurisdiction the equal protection of the law. In a unanimous decision the Supreme Court ruled laws with discriminatory intent were unconstitutional. This landmark case has been cited over 150 times since the Court's decision.


  • STEP 1:

    As a class, view the following videos and engage in class discussion to establish the basic facts of this case and establish how the 14th Amendment pertains to it.

    Have students take notes using the following handout.

    HANDOUT: Yick Wo v. Hopkins (Google Doc)

  • VIDEO CLIP 1: Yick Wo v. Hopkins: The Basic Facts (1:05)

    Vocabulary: Arbitrary, 14th Amendment, Ratify, Violate, Appeal

  • VIDEO CLIP 2: Yick Wo v. Hopkins: The 14th Amendment (1:00)

    Vocabulary: Abridge, Due Process, Immunities

  • STEP 2:

    Students can either work independently or in groups to view the following video clips and respond to the accompanying questions to learn about the experience of the Chinese in the U.S.

  • VIDEO CLIP 3: Chinese Immigration in the U.S. in the 19th Century (6:22)

    Vocabulary: Impetus, Assimilate, Gold Rush, Transcontinental Railroad

    1. Why did the Chinese come to the west coast of the U.S. during the 1850s?

    2. Describe the types of jobs that the Chinese had during this time.

    3. Explain the role of the Chinese in building the Transcontinental Railroad.

    4. Describe what life was like for the Chinese in CA in the late 1800s.

    5. How did the media portray the Chinese during this time?
  • VIDEO CLIP 4: The Burlingame Treaty (3:17)

    Vocabulary: Plaintiff, Free Soiler, William Seward, Naturalize

    1. Explain the origin of this case and its relevance to the Yick Wo v. Hopkins case.
  • VIDEO CLIP 5: Chinese Exclusion Laws (1:00)

    Vocabulary: Prohibition

    1. What were the Chinese Exclusion Laws?
  • STEP 3:

    View this collection of videos as a class to learn about the parities involved in the case, the significance of the case and the Supreme Court's decision.

  • VIDEO CLIP 6: Yick Wo v. Hopkins: Origin of the Case (3:00)

    Vocabulary: Ordinance, Habeas Corpus

    1. Explain the law that was enacted and how it impacted laundries during this time.

    2. How did this law affect Lee Yick?
  • VIDEO CLIP 7: Yick Wo v. Hopkins: Significance (1:07)

    Vocabulary: Liberty

    1. Who was Hopkins?

    2. According to Josh Blackman, why was this a significant test case?
  • VIDEO CLIP 8: Yick Wo v. Hopkins: The Decision (1:30)

    Vocabulary: Equal Protection

    1. According to Josh Blackman, what significant points were recognized in Justice Matthew's opinion?

    2. Explain Justice Matthew's written opinion on behalf of the Supreme Court Justices' unanimous decision in this case.
  • Culmination:

    As a class, review and discuss the significance of this case, the precedent it set, and its legacy.

  • Extension Activity:

    Apply the Constitutional arguments in this case to a current immigration topic that is being discussed and debated in the U.S. Students may write a position paper on it or engage in a class debate.

Additional Resources

  • Bell Ringer: The Geary Act

    Professors Mae Ngai and Josh Blackman explain the nature of the Geary Act, the impact on the Chinese in the late 1800s and its relevance today.

  • Bell Ringer: The Magnuson Act

    Professor Mae Ngai explains the parameters of the Magnuson Act and how it affected the Chinese.

  • Bell Ringer: Angel Island

    Palma You, Gallery Coordinator at the Chinese Historical Society of America, describes what life was like for Chinese immigrants when they arrived on Angel Island in California.

  • Video Clip: Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) on Congressional Apology to Chinese Americans

    In 2012 Congress issued a formal apology to Chinese Americans for their struggles in immigrating to the U.S. in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) sponsored the resolution and speaks about it on the floor of the House of Representatives.


  • 14th Amendment
  • Abridge
  • Appeal
  • Arbitrary
  • Assimilate
  • Due Process
  • Equal Protection
  • Free Soiler
  • Gold Rush
  • Habeas Corpus
  • Immunities
  • Impetus
  • Liberty
  • Naturalize
  • Ordinance
  • Plaintiff
  • Prohibition
  • Ratify
  • Transcontinental Railroad
  • Violate
  • William Seward


Civil Rights & Civil LibertiesSupreme Court CasesU.S. History


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