Thursday, April 13, 2017

K is for Korematsu

Korematsu v. United States
[December 18, 1944, decision 6-3]

Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, a Japanese pilot crash-landed on an island of Hawaii.  Island locals detained the pilot, and enlisted the assistance of three Hawaiians who spoke both Japanese and English to help translate.  Those three Hawaiians assisted the pilot in an attempt to escape, which ultimately failed, but the rest of the locals determined that no person of Japanese descent could be trusted.

Three weeks later, on February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 which authorized the War Department to create military areas from which any or all Americans might be removed.  On March 24, 1942, Western Defense Command began issuing Civilian Exclusion orders, commanding that all persons of Japanese ancestry move into relocation camps.

Fred Korematsu was a Japanese-American man who decided to stay in San Leandro, California, knowingly violating Civilian Exclusion Order No. 34.  Fred Korematsu argued that the Executive Order was unconstitutional and that it violated the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. He was arrested and convicted. No question was raised as to Korematsu's loyalty to the United States. 

The Court sided with the government and held that the need to protect against espionage outweighed Korematsu's rights. Justice Black wrote the majority opinion, and argued that compulsory exclusion, though constitutionally suspect, is justified during circumstances of "emergency and peril." 

“Korematsu was not excluded from the Military Area because of hostility to him or his race. He was excluded because we are at war with the Japanese Empire, because the properly constituted military authorities feared an invasion of our West Coast and felt constrained to take proper security measures, because they decided that the military urgency of the situation demanded that all citizens of Japanese ancestry be segregated from the West Coast temporarily, and, finally, because Congress, reposing its confidence in this time of war in our military leaders - as inevitably it must - determined that they should have the power to do just this.”

The dissenting opinions stated the decision was “racism, pure and simple.”

Today, most legal scholars believe this opinion was wrong, but that it might happen again during a time of war.

Did you guess right?
Here's Friday's hint - L is for Libel.  Can you guess the case and what it's about?  Leave a comment!


  1. This case has disturbing ramifications for today, I think.

    On a somewhat related note, one of my high school teachers and one of my long-ago colleagues were interned under Executive Order 1066.

    Thank you for sharing information on this important case.

    Sharon E. Cathcart
    Award-winning Author of Fiction Featuring Atypical Characters

    1. So far as I know, I don't know anyone who was directly affected, or had a family member directly affected. And you knew two people. Interesting!

  2. It's hard to believe this actually happened and like the blogger above, I worry if it could be used again for another group of citizens. Dangerous idea.

    K is for Kevlar—Gift From Aliens?

    1. Yes, it is worrisome that it might be used again. War is war, and I understand that, but still...........

  3. Fascinating backstory. I hadn't read about the crash landing on Hawaii before.

    For too-hard-to-explain reasons, this reminds me of the movie A Simple Plan. I think because nothing is simple, eh.

    Great stuff, Dena. Thanks.

    1. In the law, nothing is simple. I once started an opening statement to a jury with "this is really a simple case". Then it surprised me and turned out to be not so simple after all. I still won, but I wonder if the jurors thought I was a liar.

  4. I had not heard of this case but it is scary that a court thinks it is OK.

    1. Yes, sometimes Supreme Court decisions leave me scratching my head, and sometimes they're really scary.

  5. So now when Trump does this to the Muslims I'm gonna remember this law. Thanks for the background. May come in handy at some point.

    Impromptu Promptlings
    A to Z Challenge Letter L

    1. Glad I was able to give you something to remember!