United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind

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United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued January 11–12, 1923
Decided February 19, 1923
Full case name United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind
Citations 261 U.S. 204 (more)
43 S. Ct. 338; 67 L. Ed. 616; 1923 U.S. LEXIS 2544
Prior history Certificate from the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
People of Indian descent are not white, and hence are not eligible for naturalization.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Sutherland, joined by unanimous

United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind, 261 U.S. 204 (1923), was a case in which the United States Supreme Court unanimously decided that Bhagat Singh Thind, an Indian Sikh man, was ineligible for naturalization. In 1923, Thind filed for United States citizenship under the Naturalization Act of 1906 which allowed white persons and persons of African descent to naturalize. He did not challenge the constitutionality of the racial restrictions. Instead, he attempted to have Indians classified as "white."

Thind argued that as a high-caste Indian he was "Aryan" and therefore "Caucasian". The Court found that "the Aryan theory, as a racial basis, seems to be discredited by most, if not all, modern writers on the subject of ethnology," and noted that "the Caucasic division of the human family is 'in point of fact the most debatable field in the whole range of anthropological studies.'"

The bench[edit]


According to the Court, "Congress, by the Act of February 5, 1917, 39 Stat. 874, c. 29, § 3, has now excluded from admission into this country all natives of Asia within designated limits of latitude and longitude, including the whole of India." Bhagat Singh Thind claimed the right to citizenship as a white person, following the original naturalization statute of 1790. The Court concluded that the 1917 statute applied to Bhagat Singh Thind and thus supported the revoking of his citizenship, per the request of the Naturalization Examiner (who had originally objected to his being granted citizenship).

Thind's lawyers unsuccessfully argued that Thind had a revulsion to marrying an Indian woman of the "lower races" when they said, "The high-caste Hindu regards the aboriginal Indian Mongoloid in the same manner as the American regards the Negro, speaking from a matrimonial standpoint."[1]

Associate Justice George Sutherland found that, while Thind, an Asian Indian, may claim to have "purity of Aryan blood" due to being "born in Village Taragarh Talawa near Jandiala Guru, Amritsar, Punjab" and having "high caste" status; he was not Caucasian in the "common understanding", so he could not be included in the "statutory category as white persons".[2] George Sutherland wrote in his summary: [2]

The Court concluded that "The term 'Aryan' has to do with linguistic, and not necessarily with physical characteristics, and it would seem quite reasonable that mere resemblance in language, indicating a common linguistic root buried in remotely ancient soil, is altogether inadequate to prove common racial origin."


Not only were new applicants from India denied the privilege of naturalization, the new Asian classification suggested that retroactive revocation of naturalized status was appropriate, a point that some courts upheld when prosecutors argued that Indians who had applied for naturalized status using the Caucasian categorization improperly had been granted naturalized citizen status. Some of the consequences of revoked naturalized status are illustrated by the example of some Indian land owners living in California who found themselves under the jurisdiction of the California Alien Land Law of 1913. Specifically, Attorney General Ulysses S. Webb was very active in revoking Indian land purchases; in a bid to strengthen the Asiatic Exclusion League, he promised to prevent Indians from buying or leasing land. Under intense pressure, and with Immigration Act of 1917 preventing fresh immigration to strengthen the fledgling Indian-American community, many Indians left the United States, leaving only half their original American population, 2,405, by 1940.


As a result of a U.S. Supreme Court decision finding that no person of Indian origin could become a naturalized American, the first person of Indian origin to become an American citizen, A.K. Mozumdar, had his citizenship revoked. A decision on his appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that revocation.

Suggestive of the poor coordination within the legal system of the early 20th century is the fact that Thind applied for and received U.S. citizenship through the state of New York a few years after his original U.S. citizenship was revoked by the U.S. Supreme Court. Numerous other instances exist of naïve clerks, or clerks acting in protest, who granted citizenship in defiance of the Supreme Court[citation needed].

As public support for Indians grew throughout World War II[citation needed], and as India's independence came closer to reality, Indians argued for an end to their legislative discrimination. The repeal of Chinese exclusion laws in 1943 and the granting of naturalization privileges to Chinese encouraged Indians to hope for similar gains. Hurdling over many members of Congress and the American Federation of Labor, which vehemently opposed removing legislative measures barricading Indian immigration and naturalization, the Indian community succeeded in gaining support among several prominent congressmen, as well as President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The support culminated in the signing into law by President Truman on July 2, 1946, of the Luce-Celler Act. This Act reversed the Thind decision, insofar as allowing naturalization to Indians, and set a token quota for their immigration at 100 per year.

In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Hart-Celler Immigration Act, which phased out the national origins quota system first instituted in 1921. In 1965–1970, 27,859 Indian immigrants entered the United States. Immigration from India in 1965–1993 was 558,980.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bigsby, C. (2006). The Cambridge companion to modern American culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-84132-0
  2. ^ a b c United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind, Certificate From The Circuit Court Of Appeals For The Ninth Circuit., No. 202. Argued January 11, 12, 1923.—Decided February 19, 1923, United States Reports, v. 261, The Supreme Court, October Term, 1922, 204–215.

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