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Korematsu v. United States

Korematsu v. US

Case: Korematsu v. United States (1944)

Parties involved: Fred Korematsu, a twenty year old Japanese American who was born in Oakland, California decided that he did not want to be interned in a relocation camp. Korematsu ignored the relocation order and went into hiding but was arrested and tried for having violated the evacuation order.

Facts of the case: The American Civil Liberties Union defended Korematsu in court, but the case was lost. He received five years probation and was sent off to an internment camp at Topaz, Utah. His actions violated Exclusion Order #34 and Executive Order #9066 of 1942, which had been issued to protect the West Coast from acts of espionage and sabotage. The Acts required all Japanese­Americans living in restricted areas to go to inland relocation centers. Korematsu believed the order violated his constitutional rights being an American born citizen. After this initial defeat, Korematsu's lawyers appealed his case all the way to the Supreme Court. Their argument was based on the grounds that it was unconstitutional to take people out of their homes and put them in internment camps solely on the basis of their race. It was noted that other so-called enemy aliens like Italians and Germans had not been relocated. The lawyers argued that there was no evidence that Korematsu was in any way disloyal to the government including acts of sabotage or espionage. In addition, as an American citizen he had a constitutionally guaranteed right to be treated as an individual and not as a member of a particular racial group. The lawyers for the United States government pleaded that Fred Korematsu and the 112,000 of the other Japanese-Americans were interned under a lawful military order issued for the protection of America's West Coast. The government lawyers also pointed out that it had been proven that certain Japanese-Americans were loyal to Japan and therefore a threat to the war efforts.

Court's decision: The Supreme Court did not announce its decision until December 18, 1944, more than two and a half years after the original evacuation order. In a rare decision, 6­3, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that an entire race could be labeled a "suspect classification," meaning that the government was permitted to deny the Japanese their constitutional rights because of military considerations. So because a number of Japanese may have been disloyal, the military felt that complete exclusion of persons of Japanese ancestry from certain areas was essential during wartime. The Court ruled that such exclusion was not beyond the war powers of Congress and the President since their interest in national security was "compelling." Justice Frank Murphy was opposed to the ruling and referred to the case as an instance of "obvious racial discrimination." Murphy also pointed out that loyalty hearings should have been held to determine whether there was cause to remove individual Japanese-Americans. Those whose loyalty was doubtful should then be removed but this mass evacuation is in violation of the constitutional rights to due process of law.

Effect upon United States history: After World War II, the federal government paid Japanese-Americans $35 million to compensate them for their lost of property. The actual value of the property however, has been put at $400 million. In August 1988, the nation acknowledged the harm it had caused these Japanese-Americans and made apologies. Congress passed a reparations bill giving $20,000 tax-free payments to those were shipped to relocation camps during the second world war. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that the President had the right to issue the Executive order as Commander-in-Chief. This decision in the Korematsu case has given the power to relocated or intern entire racial groups for reasons of military necessity or national emergency.

Key ideas: This case was a matter of the Fourteenth Amendment equal protection clause, vs Article II power of the president. The evacuation order had deprived the deported Japanese-Americans of their rights under the Fifth Amendment, of liberty and property "without due process" of law. The case also deals when in times of war or national emergency, governments often claim extra powers and these powers may temporarily interfere with the people's basic constitutional rights.

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