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Japanese Man Admitted to Bar 63 Years After His Death to Repudiate Injustice

By William Vogeler, Esq. on June 01, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If there are lawyers in the afterlife, Sei Fujii is one of them now.

The California Supreme Court granted Fujii a law license 63 years after he died, acknowledging that he was wrongfully denied during his lifetime. The justices praised him for his contributions to society in the face of discrimination and disadvantage.

"Despite his unjust exclusion from the legal profession, Fujii undertook extraordinary efforts to apply his education and talents to advancing the rule of law in California," the court said.

Historic Contributions

Fujii, who immigrated to the United States in 1903, earned his law degree from USC eight years later. He was not allowed to practice law, however, because of discriminatory laws at the time.

Federal law limited naturalization to "free white persons," and California barred law licenses for immigrants unless they were eligible for citizenship.

After living through World War I, the Great Depression and World War II -- including internment because of his Japanese nationality -- Fujii became a citizen in 1952. Having spent his life as a newspaper publisher and civil rights activist, he died 51 days later at age 73.

Although he never practiced law, Fujii fought through the legal system for the rights of Japanese immigrants. His major contribution came when he bought a parcel of land to challenge the Alien Land Law, which authorized the government to take away internees' land.

The state Supreme Court held that the law violated the 14th Amendment, and California voters approved a measure to repeal the law. The Little Tokyo Historical Society, which chronicled Fujii's achievement, petitioned the state bar for his admission posthumously.

Injustice Repudiated

In granting the motion, the Supreme Court said it admitted Fujii to repudiate the injustice against him.

"Despite being formally excluded from joining the ranks of the legal profession throughout his life, Fujii spent much of his career using the courts to advance the rule of law in California," the unanimous court said.

The justices said Fujii might have accomplished more if he had been admitted to the bar, but his "work in the face of prejudice and oppression embodies the highest traditions of those who work to make our society more just."

In 2015, the historical society dedicated a monument in his honor at the entrance to Japanese Village in Little Tokyo. According to reports, Fujii died of a heart attack at a Buddhist temple after delivering a eulogy for a man who had helped fund the construction of a Japanese hospital.

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