Japanese American redress and court cases
The following focuses on significant court cases that have shaped civil and human rights for Japanese Americans, as well as for other minorities. These cases have been the cause and/or catalyst to many changes in United States law. But mainly, they have resulted in adjusting the perception of Asian immigrants in the eyes of the American government.
Hirabayashi v. United States, 1943
Gordon Hirabayashi was convicted in terms of the violation of a curfew imposed at the time, which proclaimed that;
|“||“all persons of Japanese ancestry residing in such an area be within their place of residence daily between the hours of 8:00 p. m. and 6:00 a.m.”.||”|
Hirabayashi, who was a student of the University of Washington at the time,
|“||“felt that the curfew violated his Fifth Amendment right of due process. He disobeyed it”.||”|
He further did not report for confinement to the bus that was supposed to take him to the camp he had been assigned to, which led to the charges against him becoming more severe. It was only in 1987 that the charges against Hirabayashi were dropped by the Supreme Court:
|“||“It took 40 years for a legal scholar reviewing declassified government documents to unearth memos sent by the government lawyers arguing before the Supreme Court to their superiors. In the memos, they complained that they were being forced to tell lies in court about the threat posed by the Japanese” (“Hirabayashi Versus the United States, 2005).||”|
The discussion this case sparked involved two key issues. The first was one of power, and if the curfew law was unconstitutional. The second issue was the question of racial discrimination, a constant theme within all of these cases.
Ex parte Endo, 1944
Mitsuye Endo was a Nisei who had been working as a stenographer at the Department of Motor Vehicles in Sacramento, the capital of California. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor and the relocation process, she was forced to move to a segregated camp in Utah with her family. Like the other one hundred thousand Japanese Americans who were removed from their homes and sources of livelihood, Endo also found herself summarily dismissed from her job, without any hope of reinstatement or return to her home in California.
Endo hired a lawyer, James Purcell, to represent her legal protest against her illegal relocation and dismissal. Purcell and Endo filed a habeas corpus in court as a representation of her plea. The writ requested that Endo be released from the relocation camp so that she could challenge the terms of her dismissal. However, the court agreed to releasing Endo outside the West Coast area only: The U.S. government responded by offering to release Endo outside the West Coast rather than test the constitutionality of detention. Endo bravely refused the offer and remained confined without charge for another two years as she pursued her case. (“Mitsuye Endo Persevering for Justice”)
It was two years later that the U.S. Supreme Court decreed that persons of Japanese descent could not be held in confinement without proof of their disloyalty, stating that
|“||“detention in Relocation Centers of persons of Japanese ancestry regardless of loyalty is not only unauthorized by the Congress or the Executive, but it is another example of the unconstitutional resort to racism in the entire evacuation program” (“Mitsuye Endo Persevering for Justice”)||”|
and Endo and thousands of her fellow detainees were allowed to return to their homes on the Pacific Coast.
This case was special for a few reasons. First, Endo was a woman, while the other three internment cases dealt with Japanese American men. And secondly, this case was different because it arose from a habeas corpus petition.
Korematsu v. United States, 1944
A case that focused on Japanese Americans who were denied citizenship and forced to move is the case of Korematsu v. United States. Fred Korematsu refused to obey the wartime order to leave his home and report to a relocation camp for Japanese Americans. He was arrested and convicted. After losing in the Court of Appeals, he appealed to the United States Supreme Court, challenging the constitutionality of the deportation order.
The Supreme Court upheld the order excluding persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast war zone during World War II. Three justices dissented.
Justice Hugo Black, writing for the majority, said that legal restrictions on the rights of a single racial group will always be:
|“||"suspect" and that “courts must subject them to the most rigid scrutiny." However, they are not necessarily unconstitutional. The exclusion order imposed hardships “upon a large group of American citizens. But hardships are part of war. Compulsory exclusion of large groups of citizens from their homes, except under circumstances of direst emergency and peril, is inconsistent with our basic governmental institutions. But when under conditions of modern warfare our shores are threatened by hostile forces, the power to protect must be commensurate with the threatened danger.||”|
In Justice Owen's dissent, he said:
|“||“[This] is the case of convicting a citizen as a punishment for not submitting to imprisonment in a concentration camp, based on his ancestry, and solely because of his ancestry, without evidence or inquiry concerning his loyalty and good disposition towards the United States.”||”|
Justice Robert Jackson said that comparable burdens were not imposed upon descendants of the other nationalities such as Germans and Italians with whom the United States was also at war.
Coram Nobis cases
In the 1980s, the Korematsu, Hirabayashi, and Yasui cases would be reopened by coram nobis petitions. These proceedings would eventually nullify the convictions of the 1940s.
Hohri v. the United States, 1986
Another case in point is that of Hohri versus the U.S. The plaintiffs in this case were nineteen Japanese Americans and their descendants, who brought
|“||civil actions against the United States seeking declaratory relief and compensation for injuries sustained when the detainees were forced to evacuate their homes and relocate to internment camps during the Second World War (Leigh 1986, p. 648).||”|
William Hohri was living in San Francisco when he was removed and forcibly incarcerated during World War II in Manzanar. He filed the case on behalf of all the incarceration victims, claiming that apart from injuries, the prisoners suffered "summary removal from their homes, imprisonment in racially segregated prison camps, and mass deprivations of their constitutional rights" (Legacies of Incarceration, 2002). Although the case was dismissed the following year, it remains indicative of many of the claims for redress made by Japanese Americans.
- Randall, V.R. (2002). Internment of Japanese Americans at Concentration Camps Online Available, Randall reveals that in addition to the forced incarcerations of Japanese Americans, Peruvians of Japanese descent were also essentially abducted from their homes in Peru and detained at incarceration camps in the U.S. during World War II. This page also contains several links to informative articles on the subject of incarceration and redress. accessed 2007
- Hirabayashi Versus the United States, accessed 2007
Articles and resources
1. Brown, J. M. “When Military Necessity Overrides Constitutional Guarantees: The Treatment of Japanese Americans During World War II.” Available at http://www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1982/3/82.03.01.x.html
2. “Mitsuye Endo Persevering for Justice.” Available at http://www1.cuny.edu/portal_ur/content/womens_leadership/mitsuye_endo.html This article from the women’s history section of the City University in New York website relates the events pertaining to Mitsuye Endo’s battle against American courts for release from the relocation camp she was confined to, and reinstatement to her job. More information about the Endo vs. U.S. case is available at http://www.wwiihistoryclass.com/civil-rights/text/court_decisions/mitsuye_endo_exparte.pdf
3. http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAjapanact.htm This page provides extensive first-hand accounts and testimonies of Japanese Americans on their treatment in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the government’s subsequent decision to place all Japanese Americans in confinement within the interiors of the country. The various testimonies describe how the camps were overcrowded, and many prisoners committed suicide; businesses collapsed, leaving people without a means of livelihood even after their eventual release; many people lost family members who were forcibly removed from such gatherings at weddings and taken to undisclosed destinations; and how the detainees were forcibly confined in prisons which “were little better than concentration camps.”
4. “A History of Japanese Americans in California: Discriminatory Practices.” (2004.) Available at http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/5views/5views4d.htm
5. “The Japanese American Incarceration: The Journey to Redress” by John Tateishi and William Yoshino. Available at http://www.abanet.org/irr/hr/spring00humanrights/tateishi.html.
6. Leigh, M. (1986). Hohri v. United States. The American Journal of International Law, 80(3): 648-651.
7. “Legacies of Incarceration: Redress.” 2002. Available at http://www.densho.org/learning/spice/lesson6/6reading6.asp.
8. Randall, V.R. (2002). “Internment of Japanese Americans at Concentration camps.” Available at http://academic.udayton.edu/race/02rights/intern01.htm#Hirabayashi. Randall reveals that in addition to the forced incarcerations of Japanese Americans, Peruvians of Japanese descent were also essentially abducted from their homes in Peru and detained at incarceration camps in the U.S. during World War II. This page also contains several links to informative articles on the subject of incarceration and redress.
9. “Caught in the Crossfire: Arab Americans.” Available at http://www.pbs.org/itvs/caughtinthecrossfire/arab_americans.html. This article reveals how not only have American Muslims suffered prejudices as a result of their ethnicity, but that there is also fear of police and other authorities to the extent that people in such communities are not reporting crimes, for fear of racist discrimination against the victims of such crimes.
10. "Korematsu v. United States (1944)". Available at http://www.infoplease.com/us/supreme-court/cases/ar18.html. This case is about Fred Korematsu, who refused to obey the wartime order to leave his home and report to a relocation camp for Japanese Americans. He was arrested and convicted. After losing in the Court of Appeals, he appealed to the United States Supreme Court, challenging the constitutionality of the deportation order.