California's top court has granted a posthumous law license to the first Chinese-born lawyer in the US, an immigrant who was denied the right to practice law in the state in 1890 because of his race. The California Supreme Court agreed with descendants of Hong Yen Chang and the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA) at the University of California, Davis School of Law who sought to have him admitted to the California Bar. "Even if we cannot undo history, we can acknowledge it and, in so doing, accord a full measure of recognition to Chang's path-breaking efforts to become the first lawyer of Chinese descent in the United States," the court wrote in its unanimous ruling. Chang came to the United States in 1872 as part of an educational programme, ultimately earning an undergraduate degree at Yale in 1879. He graduated from Columbia Law School in 1886. New York state initially rejected Chang's admission to the bar in 1887 because he was not a US citizen. But the following year, he became the only regularly admitted Chinese lawyer in the country after a judge issued him a naturalisation certificate and the New York legislature passed a law allowing him to reapply for the bar. Chang then relocated to California, where the Supreme Court rejected his admission, saying his naturalisation certificate violated the federal Chinese Exclusion Act from 1882 and was void because Chang was "a person of Mongolian nativity". "More than a century later, the legal and policy underpinnings of our 1890 decision have been discredited," the court wrote on Monday. The California high court cited hostility toward the Chinese, cultural tensions and xenophobia, as well as a state laws designed "to disadvantage Chinese immigrants" who moved to California with other immigrants following the Gold Rush of the mid-1800s. In 1972, the court unanimously held it was "constitutionally indefensible" to forbid non-citizens from practicing law.