According to the Supreme Court decision regarding my race, being an American citizen was not enough. They say you have to look like one otherwise they say you can't tell a difference between a loyal and a disloyal American. I thought that this decision was wrong,and I still feel that way. As long as my record stands in federal court, any American citizen can be held in prison or concentration camps without a trial or a hearing. That is if they look like the enemy of our country."
--Fred Korematsu, 1983
, using the Freedom of Information Act
, UC San Diego political science
professor Peter Irons and
researcher Aiko Yoshinaga-Herzig unearthed documents proving
no credible threat from disloyal Japanese Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbor
, and furthermore, that
that government prosecutors a) possessed evidence
in Korematsu's trial
indicating that Japanese Americans were
to the United States yet did not disclose
this evidence, and b) altered evidence that suggested that internment of a racial group was not justified by military necessity. Irons contacted Fred Korematsu, and a new team of lawyers headed by Dale Minami, Ed Chen, and Eric Yamamoto were assembled.
On Jan. 19, 1983, the attorneys filed a writ of coram nobis--the legal term for "fundamental error" committed before the
court--in San Francisco federal court. Korematsu's legal team argued that the government committed fraud in prosecuting
Korematsu in 1942 because there was no military necessity to place Japanese Americans in internment camps, and this evidence was intentionally altered and suppressed by the Justice Department in the original case to justify convictions. (The Justice Department allowed the Supreme Court to rely on information in the "Final Report, Japanese Evacuation from the West Coast" (1942), prepared by General DeWitt, in deciding the case, although it had reliable evidence from the FCC, Department of the Navy, and Justice that contradicted DeWitt ). Though the petition itself was short, the evidence that Irons had discovered was attached as exhibits.
After lengthy delays, the Justice Department did not respond to the merits of the petition, and instead offered a pardon.
Koretmatsu said, "Pardon us? We should be pardoning the government." Korematsu refused.
Judge Marilyn Hall Patel asked the government to either oppose or accept the petition. Internally, the justice department could not come to a decision, and refused to do either.
On November 10, 1983, Judge Patel ruled from the bench: she granted the motion to vacate conviction and overturn indictment of Fred T. Korematsu (more than 40 years after his arrest). The government did not appeal the decision.
In her written decision, Patel wrote:
Korematsu remains on the pages of our legal and political history. As a legal precedent it is now recognized as having very limited application. As historical precedent it stands as a constant caution that in times of war or declared military necessity our instituions must be vigilant in protecting constitutional guarantees. It stands as a caution that in times of distress the shield of military necessity and national security must not be used to protect governmental actions from close scrutiny and accountability. It stands as a caution that in times of international hostility and antagonisms our institutions, legislative, executive and judicial, must be prepared to exercise their authority to protect all citizens
from the petty fears and prejudices that are so easily aroused.
In her opinion, Patel attached as Appendices the Justice department memoranda from 1944 which note that erroneous information is being provided to the Court.
So Patel's ruling damaged the Koretmatsu decision, which legal scholars generally see as an anachronism
of racial hysteria anyway. The original decision is discussed in law schools across America as a landmark case (can you qualify due process
and equal protection
in wartime circumstances?). In 1988
formally apologized and offered reparations
to the families of internee
s, in the 1988 Civil Liberties Act
. In 1998, President Clinton
awarded Fred Korematsu the Presidential Medal of Freedom
Happy ending? Not quite. Not yet.
Patel stated in her ruling that this decision corrects errors of fact, not errors of law. Neither her ruling nor Congress' apology could address the constitutionality of internment. Only the Supreme Court can decide constitutionality of its own decisions.
The Supreme Court decision in Korematsu still stands as legal precedent.
(As sekicho reminded me, there has not been another internment of an entire racial group since then, so the court has not had an opportunity to overturn their Korematsu decision)
Eljera,Bert. "Once a Fugitive, Now a Hero." AsianWeek. January 15 - 21, 1998. <http://www.asianweek.com/011598/coverstory.html> (17 October 2001)
Fournier, Eric Paul. “Of Civil Wrongs & Rights: The Fred Korematsu Story.” Film Transcript. USA, 1999. <http://www.pbs.org/pov/pressroom/2001materials/4_CWandR/OfCivilWrongsandRightsTranscript.doc> (17 October 2001)
Leitich, Greg. "Japanese American Legal History: Internment/Relocation." <http://www.cynthialeitichsmith.com/niseiww2.htm> (17 October 2001)
Mineta, Norman Y. "Justice Delayed 43 Years"," insertions to the Congressional Record, Vol. 131 No. 15; Proceedings of February 18, 1985, Issue No. 14; and February 19, 1985, Issue No. 15.
Mori, Aisha. "An Old Man with Guts," Los Angeles New Times,
<http://www.newtimesla.com/issues/1999-10-21/faultlines.html> (17 October 2001)
Nakao, Annie. "What if you don't 'look American'?" San Francisco Chronicle. February 20, 2003.
"Court Reverses Korematsu Conviction - Korematsu v. U.S.," 584 F.Supp. 1406, 16 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. 1231 (N.D.Cal. Apr 19, 1984). <http://biotech.law.lsu.edu/cases/pp/korematsu_II.htm> (26 Janaury 2004)