Community activist gets law license 63 years after his death

California Supreme Court grants posthumous bar admission to Sei Fujii, who was denied because of his race.

Law school is no joke. Imagine busting your ass, making it through and graduating from law school, only to learn that you are ineligible to practice law because you're not white.

That's what happened to Sei Fujii, a Japanese immigrant who was denied a license to practice law in California in 1911 because of his race. He received his license this week from the California Supreme Court -- over sixty years after his death.

Fujii immigrated to the United States in 1903 and received a law degree from the University of Southern California. At the time, California law barred legal licenses for immigrants who were ineligible for citizenship, and naturalization, according to federal law, was limited to "free white person" and those of African descent.

Chris Tashima as Sei Fujii in the short film 'Lil Tokyo Reporter' (2012)

Despite being barred from practicing law, Fujii used his legal education to challenge discriminatory laws in service of the Japanese American community, including a landmark challenge of the Alien Land Law, which prohibited property ownership for noncitizens and was used to take away the land of many internees during World War II. The California Supreme Court ultimately ruled the law violated the 14th amendment.

After federal law changed in 1952, Fujii became a citizen at age 73. He died of a heart attack 51 days later.

He was never admitted to the bar.

On Wednesday, thanks to efforts by by the Little Tokyo Historical Society and the Japanese American Bar Association, the state's highest court decided unanimously to posthumously grant bar admission to Fujii.

You have to wonder what Fujii could have accomplished had he been granted his law license, and the laws weren't, you know, racist. This decision comes too late, but it's an important gesture to honor someone who fought on behalf of his community, in spite of discrimination, unjust exclusion, and the very laws of the land declaring you unworthy and unequal.

The 2012 short film Lil Tokyo Reporter recounts Fujii's time as newspaper reporter covering the Japanese American community. In 2015, a monument honoring Fujii's legacy was erected in Little Tokyo.

More here: Sei Fujii was denied a law license because of his race. California's top court has granted him one, 63 years after his death

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