Based on the argument of military necessity, the Supreme Court upheld the exclusion of persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast and the requirement that they report to assembly centers, which almost always resulted in assignment to internment camps.
After the United States entered into a war with Japan, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued executive orders authorizing a military program that removed persons of Japanese descent from the West Coast and resettled them in internment centers. Congress enacted a statue that implemented the executive orders. In Hirabayashi v. United States
Japanese American residents of San Pedro, California, board a train to the Manzanar relocation center in the eastern Sierras.
Fred Korematsu was a Japanese American who tried to evade the evacuation program in order to live and work in California. When discovered, he was prosecuted for two crimes: remaining in the restricted area and not reporting to an assembly center for assignment under the program. He was sentenced to five years in prison but was paroled and sent to an internment camp in Utah. Korematsu claimed that his conviction violated the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment.
By a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court rejected Korematsu’s claim. Writing for the majority, Justice Hugo L. Black
The three dissenters emphasized the issue of racial discrimination and worried about future applications of the Korematsu precedent. Justice Frank Murphy wrote an especially strong dissent challenging “this legalization of racism” and insisted that investigations of Japanese Americans should have been conducted “on an individual basis” as had been done in cases involving persons of German and Italian ancestry.
In Ex parte Endo, announced the same day as Korematsu, the Court narrowly ruled that the War Relocation Authority must release any person whose loyalty to the United States had been clearly established. Because of the difficult burden of proof requirements in the Endo decision, this did not help Korematsu and most other Japanese Americans. In the 1980’s lawyer Peter Irons discovered that the military had concealed evidence about Korematsu and others from the courts, and their convictions were overturned.
Irons, Peter. Justice at War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. Irons, Peter. Justice Delayed. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1989. Ng, Wendy L. Japanese American Internment During World War II: A History and Reference Guide. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002.
Due process, substantive
Jackson, Robert H.
Japanese American relocation
Race and discrimination
War and civil liberties
World War II