The US District Court for the District of … China?

14 Jan 22


79 years ago this month, the US District Court for China was abolished by Congress, after being in existence since 1906. Established by virtue of treaties between the US and China and by various acts of Congress, the court had civil and criminal jurisdiction over US citizens living in China and, later, in the Philippines, Guam and other US "possessions." Appeals went to the Ninth Circuit US Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

The court held sessions in Shanghai, Canton, Tientsin, and Hankow on a rotating basis. US citizens charged with crimes in China could only be tried by this court. Chinese citizens suing US citizens civilly could only bring suit in this court. Because the court was not located on US soil, the US Constitution did not apply, and so, for example, no jury trial or due process rights existed. Prisoners would wait months for a trial.

The federal statute establishing the court required that the court apply the laws of the United States, and, "where deficient in the provisions necessary to give jurisdiction or to furnish suitable remedies, the common law and the law as established by the decisions of the courts of the United States ….” This led the court to apply pre-independence US colonial common law, the District of Columbia municipal code, the laws of the then-territory of Alaska, and, with respect to real property disputes, the laws of China.

The last judge to preside in the court was the former Attorney General of New Mexico.