Korematsu, Travel Bans, and Resisting History’s “Gravely Wrong” Injustices as They Happen

On February 19, 1942, the White House issued Executive Order 9066 which led to the forcible detention, removal, and incarceration (see JACL’s Power of Words) of 120,000 Japanese and Japanese American citizens in hastily-erected detention centers and concentration camps. Assumed (without evidence) to be Japanese spies, Japanese American men, women, and children were imprisoned without due process behind barbed wire fences. There, entire families were crammed into single-room shacks and held at gunpoint in some of America’s bleakest and most desolate landscapes for over four years.

Fred Korematsu was one of a handful of Japanese Americans who courageously defied Executive Order 9066. Refusing to obey the order that he join other Japanese Americans in reporting for forcible relocation, Korematsu instead went on the run. When he was eventually arrested and charged with refusing the military’s relocation order, Korematsu challenged the constitutionality of Japanese American incarceration. That case – Korematsu v. United States – was found against Fred Korematsu, and it would go on to become a landmark Supreme Court decision; moreover, it would be one decision that most legal scholars now agree was decided in error.

Indeed, earlier this month, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a rare rebuke of its 1944 decision against Korematsu. In the Trump v. Hawaii majority decision, Chief Justice John Roberts said that “Korematsu was gravely wrong the day it was decided,” and invoked the dissent penned by Justice Robert Jackson wherein he described Japanese American incarceration as having “no place in law under the Constitu­tion.”

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