Hirabayashi v. United States

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Hirabayashi vs. United States
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued May 10–11, 1943
Decided June 21, 1943
Full case name Gordon Kiyoshi Hirabayashi v. United States
Citations 320 U.S. 81 (more)
63 S. Ct. 1375; 87 L. Ed. 1774; 1943 U.S. LEXIS 1109
Prior history Certificate from the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
The Court held that the application of curfews against members of a minority group was constitutional when the nation was at war with the country from which that group originated.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Stone, joined by Roberts, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Jackson
Concurrence Douglas
Concurrence Murphy
Concurrence Rutledge
Laws applied
United States Executive Order 9066; U.S. Const.

Hirabayashi v. United States, 320 U.S. 81 (1943),[1] was a case in which the United States Supreme Court held that the application of curfews against members of a minority group were constitutional when the nation was at war with the country from which that group originated. Yasui v. United States was a companion case decided the same day.


Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, American public opinion initially stood by the large population of Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast, and believed that their loyalty to the United States was unquestionable.[1] Six weeks later, though, public opinion turned against Japanese Americans living in on the West Coast, as the press and other Americans became nervous about the potential for fifth column activity. Though the administration (including the President Franklin D. Roosevelt and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover) dismissed all rumors of Japanese-American espionage on behalf of the Japanese War effort, pressure mounted upon the Administration as the tide of public opinion turned against Japanese-Americans.

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 which permitted the Lieutenant General DeWitt (as head of the military for most of the Western United States) to confine and exclude certain persons from "military areas," regardless of their ancestry or country of citizenship. Over the course of several weeks, LTG DeWitt imposed several public proclamations, which first imposed a curfew upon resident "aliens" of Japanese descent and upon Japanese-Americans. Then, later orders confined Japanese and Japanese-Americans to Military Area No. 1, where Hirabayashi lived. Then, on May 3, 1942, DeWitt issued an order requiring Japanese and Japanese-Americans to report to offices, where they would be taken to relocation centers. (At the time, the terms "relocation centers," "internment camps," and "concentration camps" were used interchangeably.)

The defendant, Gordon Kiyoshi Hirabayashi, was a University of Washington student, who was accused of violating the curfew order, a misdemeanor based upon Executive Order 9066 and a subsequent Congressional statute designating the violation of military orders in Military Area Nos. 1 and 2 a misdemeanor. The Justice Department knew that someone would challenge all of the three substantive elements of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's orders affecting Japanese-Americans: curfew, exclusion, and internment.[1] The FDR administration, and particularly the Department of Justice and Francis Biddle sought out test cases it could use to establish favorable precedent and prepare itself for a case that could challenge the entire internment policy.

Hirabayashi was convicted of violating a curfew and relocation order, and his appeal of this conviction reached the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court heard both the Hirabayashi case and Yasui v. United States during the 1942-1943 term, and released the opinions as companion cases on June 21, 1943. The Court upheld the curfew order in both the Hirabayashi and Yasui cases, and the defendants were sent to internment camps.

Later developments[edit]

This case has been largely overshadowed by Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944), which the U.S. Supreme Court decided the following term. But, though the Korematsu case challenging the exclusion and internment portions of Executive Order 9066 overshadowed the Hirabayashi case challenging the curfew portion of the order, the Court's opinion in Korematsu cited its Hirabayashi opinion, upholding the curfew order.[2]

In 1986 and 1987, Hirabayashi's convictions on both charges were overturned by the U.S. District Court in Seattle and the Federal Appeals Court, because evidence arose that the Solicitor General's office had argued Japanese American attempts to aid the enemy in its 1943-44 Supreme Court presentations despite having researched and debunked all the rumored incidents. In 2011, the Acting Solicitor General officially confessed error in that regard.[3]

In May 2012, President Obama awarded Gordon Hirabayashi posthumously the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]

  • Text of Hirabayashi v. United States, 320 U.S. 81 (1943) is available from:  Findlaw  Justia