Ex Parte Endo Trial: 1944

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Ex Parte Endo Trial: 1944

Appellant and Defendant: Mitsuye Endo
Appellant Claim: Entitlement to habeas corpus
Chief Lawyer for Plaintiff: Charles Fahey
Chief Lawyer for Appellant James C. Purcell
Justices: Chief Justice Harlan F. Stone; Justices Hugo L. Black, William 0. Douglas, Felix Frankfurter, Robert H. Jackson, Frank Murphy, Stanley F. Reed, Owen J. Roberts, and Wiley B. Rutledge
Place: Washington, D.C.
Date of Decision: December 18, 1944
Decision: Judgment reversed and the cause remanded to district court

SIGNIFICANCE: This Supreme Court decision ended what the American Civil Liberties Union later called "the worst single wholesale violation of civil rights of American citizens in our history."

In February 1942, soon after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in the surprise attack that committed the United States to World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the War Relocation Authority to detain persons of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast, many of whom were not only American citizens but native-born.

Military commanders were authorized to designate areas from which such persons could be excluded; if they lived within those areas, the military could move them. Lt. General J. L. De Witt, of the Western Defense Command, proclaimed that the entire Pacific Coast of the United States:

[B]y its geographical location is particularly subject to attack, to attempted invasion by the armed forces of nations with which the United States is now at war, and, in connection therewith, is subject to espionage and acts of sabotage, thereby requiring the adoption of military measures necessary to establish safeguards against such enemy operations.

On those orders, 110,000 Japanese-Americans, 75,000 of whom were U.S.citizens, were removed from their homes. Meantime, Congress enacted legislation that ratified and confirmed the president's order.

Mitsuye Endo, a native-born American whose ancestors were Japanese, was taken from her home in Sacramento, California, to the Tule Lake War Relocation Center at Newell, California. Endo was 22. A Methodist who had never visited Japan and neither spoke nor read Japanese, she worked in the California Department of Motor Vehicles. At Tule, she and the others found they could not leave the center without written permission issued by the War Relocation Authority.

Petition and Appeal Stretch Over 21 Months

In July 1942, through lawyer James Purcell, who had worked with Japanese-American lawyers in Sacramento and who was appalled at the treatment the native Americans had received, Endo filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus (relief from unlawful confinement) in the District Court of the United States for the Northern District of California. She asked for her liberty to be restored. One year passed. The petition was denied in July 1943. In August, Endo appealed to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Next, Mitsuye Endo was moved to the Central Utah Relocation Center at Topaz, Utah. It took the Circuit Court of Appeals until April 22, 1944, to decide that it needed to apply to the U.S. Supreme Court for instructions on some questions of law. The Supreme Court promptly demanded the entire record of the Endo case, so that it could "proceed to a decision as if the case had been brought to the Supreme Court by appeal." Thus the case became identified as "Ex parte Endo"ex parte being a legal way of saying that the case came from one side only (most appeals to higher courts have two sides, the appellant's and the appelee's).

Confined Under Armed Guard

The Supreme Court soon learned that Mitsuye Endo:

is a loyal and law-abiding citizen of the United States, that no charge has been made against her, that she is being unlawfully detained, and that she is confined in the Relocation Center under armed guard and held there against her will.

The court also learned, from one of General De Witt's reports, that:

Essentially, military necessity required only that the Japanese population be removed from the coastal area and dispersed in the interior. That the evacuation program necessarily and ultimately developed into one of complete Federal supervision was due primarily to the fact that the interior states would not accept an uncontrolled Japanese migration.

The military's argument, noted Justice William 0. Douglas in the opinion handed down December 18, 1944, was that "but for such supervision there might have been dangerously disorderly migration of unwanted people to unprepared communities" and that "although community hostility towards the evacuees has diminished, it has not disappeared and the continuing control of the Authority over the relocation process is essential to the success of the evacuation program."

Justice Douglas wrote:

We are of the view that Mitsuye Endo should be given her liberty. We conclude that, whatever power the War Relocation Authority may have to detain other classes of citizens, it has no authority to subject citizens who are concededly loyal to its leave procedure.

Loyalty is a matter of the heart and mind, not of race, creed, or color. He who is loyal is by definition not a spy or a saboteur. When the power to detain is derived from the power to protect the war effort against espionage and sabotage, detention which has no relationship to that objective is unauthorized.

If we assume (as we do) that the original evacuation was justified, its lawful character was derived from the fact that it was an espionage and sabotage measure, not that there was community hostility to this group of American citizens.

"Mitsuye Endo," concluded the Justice, "is entitled to unconditional release by the War Relocation Authority."

By this time, the War Relocation Authority, aware that no military need existed for barring Japanese Americans from the West Coast, had quietly begun permitting selected evacuees to return home. The Supreme Court decision effectively ended the detention program, as the Western Defense Command announced that "those persons of Japanese ancestry whose records have stood the test of Army scrutiny during the past two years" would be released from internment after January 2, 1945.

Bernard Ryan, Jr.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Armor, John, and Peter Wright. with photographs by Ansel Adams and commentary by John Hersey. Manzanar. New York: Times Books division of Random House, 1988.

Burns, James MacGregor. Roosevelt: The Soldier of Freedom. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1970.

Irons, Peter. Justice at War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.

Melendy, H. Brett. The Oriental Americans. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1972.

Wilson, Robert A. and Bill Hosokawa. East to America. New York: William Morrow & Co., 1980.