The law seemed clear. The Chinese laundries were in wooden buildings, and wooden laundries were illegal. The San Francisco court decided against the Chinese launderers. So did the California Supreme Court. Lee Yick took his case to the nation's highest court: the United States Supreme Court . There were two issues: Do the police have the right to enforce a law one way for some people and another for others? And, should the law treat alienspeople, like Lee Yick, who aren't citizensthe same way it treats American citizens? This is what the Supreme Court said: "For no legitimate reason this body (the California Court) by its action has declared that it is lawful for 80-odd persons who are not subjects of China to wash clothes for hire in wood frame buildings, but unlawful for all subjects of China to do the same thing."
The California law was applied, the Court said, "with an evil eye and an unequal hand." That, said the justices, was wrong. And then the court added this: "The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution is not confined to the protection of citizens. It says: 'Nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.' "
The sheriff and the state of California lost the argument. The laundrymen beat them. Because of that, all persons in the United States, citizens or not, are entitled to the same fair treatment. Lee Yick and his friends had won a momentous victory .