Japanese‐American Internment Cases
The Japanese‐American Internment Cases resulted from legal claims by Japanese Americans that these actions violated their rights as U.S. citizens. Gordon Kyoshi Hira bayashi was born in Seattle in 1918 and was a senior at the University of Washington when he was arrested in 1942 for failing to register for evacuation and for violating the curfew imposed on all ethnic Japanese. In Hirabayashi v. U.S. (20 U.S. 81) in 1943, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upheld the military curfew regulations under the war powers, and thus his conviction, but declined to consider the issue of Japanese exclusion from the area. The Court similarly upheld the curfew conviction of Minoru Yasui, born in Oregon in 1916, who was a lawyer and a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve.
In December 1944, the Supreme Court upheld the legality of the forced evacuation of U.S. citizens of Japanese ancestry in Korematsu v. U.S. (323 U.S. 214). But three justices, Robert Jackson, Frank Murphy, and Owen J. Roberts, dissented, claiming the relocation program was unconstitutional. Fred Toyosaburo Korematsu, born in Oakland, California, in 1919, had been arrested in 1942 for refusing to comply with the military's exclusion order. In a gesture to the dissenters, in Ex parte Endo (323 U.S. 283), the Supreme Court held in 1944 that the War Relocation Authority, which oversaw the relocation program, could not detain a person whose loyalty had been established.
Thus, the Supreme Court largely upheld the government during the war, limiting the Constitution's guarantees of equal protection under the law, and allowing the supremacy of military over civil judgment and authority on the basis of claims of “military necessity.”
In 1983, a team of attorneys reopened the internment cases based on documentary findings that in their original presentation to the Supreme Court, the government's lawyers had suppressed evidence and made false statements. Lower courts vacated the wartime convictions of Hirabayashi and Korematsu, but refused to hear Yasui's petition, and the government chose to end the litigation by not appealing those decisions to the Supreme Court, the sole court with the authority to reverse its own rulings. In 1988, Congress provided for partial restitution payments of $20,000 to each of the 60,000 surviving internees from the camps.
[See also Civil Liberties and War; Internment of Enemy Aliens; Supreme Court, War, and the Military.]
Peter Irons , Justice at War: The Story of the Japanese American Internment Cases, 1983.
Peter Irons , Justice Delayed: The Record of the Japanese American Internment Cases, 1989. Personal Justice Denied. Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, 1997.
Gary Y. Okihiro