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Mon, 12.18.1944

Korematsu v. The United States is Decided

*On this date in 1944, Korematsu v. the United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944), was decided.  This was a landmark the United States Supreme Court case upholding the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

The case exemplifies the racial intersectionality between Asian Americans and African Americans in the United States. The decision has widely been criticized, with some scholars describing it as "an odious and discredited artifact of popular bigotry" and as "a stain on American jurisprudence."  

After Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, authorizing the War Department to create military areas from which any or all Americans might be excluded. Subsequently, the Western Defense Command, a United States Army military command charged with coordinating the defense of the West Coast of the United States, ordered "all persons of Japanese ancestry, including aliens and non-aliens," to relocate to internment camps.

However, a 23-year-old Japanese American man, Fred Korematsu, refused to leave the exclusion zone and instead challenged the order on the grounds that it violated the Fifth Amendment.  In a majority opinion joined by five other justices, Associate Justice Hugo Black held that the need to protect against espionage by Japan outweighed the rights of Americans of Japanese descent.  The Korematsu opinion was the first instance in which the Supreme Court applied the strict scrutiny standard of review to racial discrimination by the government; it is one of only a handful of cases in which the Court held that the government met that standard.

A California district court voided Korematsu's conviction in 1983 on the grounds that Solicitor General Charles H. Fahy had suppressed a report from the Office of Naval Intelligence that held that there was no evidence that Japanese Americans were acting as spies for Japan. The Japanese Americans who were interned were later granted reparations through the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, and Chief Justice John Roberts, in the 2018 case of Trump v. Hawaii, said in his comments have explicitly repudiated the Korematsu decision.  


Cornel Law.Edu

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