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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Families of Plaintiffs in Iconic SCOTUS Japanese American Incarceration Cases File Joint Brief Against Trump Muslim Ban

Gordon Hirabayashi, Minoru Yasui and Fred Korematsu in a photograph taken in 1983. (Photo credit: copyrighted Bob Hsiang Photography. Please direct any requests for photo usage directly to Mr. Hsiang.)

In an historic move, the families of Gordon Hirabayashi, Minoru Yasui, and Fred Korematsu  — the three men behind three landmark Supreme Court cases that challenged the constitutionality of Japanese American incarceration (JACL’s Power of Words) — filed a joint amicus brief to the Supreme Court yesterday paralleling President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban with the forcible imprisonment of Japanese Americans in camps during World War II.

In 1942, Gordon Hirabayashi and Minoru Yasui filed separate Supreme Court cases challenging the constitutionality of a federally-imposed curfew on Japanese Americans, a precursor to removal orders that led to the World War II incarceration of Japanese American citizens. That same year, Fred Korematsu was arrested after he refused to report for removal and relocation orders, and his appeal of that arrest formed the basis of his Supreme Court challenge of Executive Order 9066. These three cases — along with the Ex Parte Endo decision — form the bulk of the Supreme Court case history on federal targeting of specific racial or ethnic minority groups under the auspices of national security.

One need not try too hard to see the relevance of this case history on today’s fight to stop Trump’s attempt Muslim travel ban.

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