• Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court ruled that the exigencies of war justified a military curfew which was applied almost exclusively to Japanese Americans.

After the United States entered into a war against Japan, many Americans feared that JapaneseWorld War II;Japanese American relocation Americans living on the West Coast might engage in subversive activities, especially if there were a bombing raid or an invasion. In addition to racial prejudice, there was a widespread belief that persons of Japanese background in Hawaii had helped prepare for the invasion of Pearl Harbor. At the urging of military and political leaders, President Franklin D. Roosevelt in early 1942 issued Executive Order No. 9066, authorizing the secretary of war to prescribe “military areas” from which any civilians might be excluded, and Executive Order No. 9102, establishing an executive agency for the purpose of interning the estimated 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry, citizens and noncitizens alike. Soon thereafter, the Congress enacted a statute implementing the executive orders.Japanese American relocationDue process, substantive;Hirabayashi v. United States[Hirabayashi v. United States]Equal protection clause;Hirabayashi v. United States[Hirabayashi v. United States]War powers;Hirabayashi v. United States[Hirabayashi v. United States]Japanese American relocation

Acting under presidential authority, General John DeWittDeWitt, John of the Western Defense Command imposed a curfew on all persons of Japanese ancestry and also on German and Italian nationals. In addition, he ordered every Japanese American to report to a local civilian assembly center for assignment to an internment camp. Gordon Hirabayashi, a Japanese American student at the University of Washington, intentionally disobeyed both the curfew and the reporting order. For these two offenses, he was prosecuted and given concurrent three-month sentences.

By a 9-0 vote, the Supreme Court held that the curfew was constitutionally permitted under the combined congressional and presidential war powers. Because of the concurrent sentences, the Court refused to examine the constitutionality of the relocation program. Writing for the Court, Chief Justice Harlan Fiske StoneStone, Harlan Fiske;Hirabayashi v. United States[Hirabayashi v. United States] emphasized the gravity of the national emergency and found justification for suspecting JapaneseeWorld War II;Japanese American relocationJapanese American relocation Americans of continued loyalty to Japan. Although Stone wrote that racial discrimination was “odious to a free people whose institutions are founded upon the doctrine of equality,” he noted that the Fifth Amendment contained no equal protection clause and concluded that the principles of due process did not prohibit the government from taking race into account when relevant to national security in time of war. In upholding the curfew, Stone declared that the Court was not deciding whether or not more severe policies would be acceptable.

Three members of the Court wrote concurring opinions that narrowed the scope of the decision. Justice Frank Murphy, who almost registered a dissent, wrote, “Distinctions based on color and ancestry are utterly inconsistent with our traditions and our ideals.” In Korematsu v. United States[case]Korematsu v. United States[Korematsu v. United States] (1944), the justices voted six to three to approve of the exclusion and reporting orders. Ironically, the Hirabayashi and Korematsu opinions would later be quoted to support the idea that the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment includes an equal protection requirement.

Further Reading
  • Irons, Peter. “Gordon Hirabayashi v. United States.” In The Courage of Their Convictions. New York: Free Press, 1988.

Due process, substantive

Jackson, Robert H.

Race and discrimination

War and civil liberties

War powers

World War II

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