The government of the United States (US) regards the civil rights of each of its citizens with utmost importance, regardless of race, gender, or affiliation. The recognition of the importance of protecting the civil rights of every citizen renders the US government as the single largest protector. Yet, in cases where the US government requires the waiving of such duty, it has to provide compelling reasons subject to the strict scrutiny test of the US Supreme Court (SC). The case of Fred Toyosaburo Korematsu v. United States (Korematsu v. US), decided in 1944, served as the first instance where the SC used strict scrutiny to decide on the wisdom of the US government in issuing and implementing Executive Order 9066 (EO 9066) and using it to charge and convict Korematsu.
This study argues that the US government, contrary to the decision in Korematsu v. US, is wrong in executing EO 9066 and using it against Korematsu. Where the defense of civil rights is the main concern, the creation of policies against it entails the concurrent duty of the US government to defend itself under the strict scrutiny of the SC. Yet, the failure of the US government to justify the wisdom of EO 9066 sufficiently, as shown by developments after 1944, provides that Korematsu and the rest of Japanese-Americans have suffered injustice from deprivation of civil rights. Whereas there is no question to the wisdom of the SC in practicing strict scrutiny in rendering its decision, the deliberately malignant act of the US government that enabled it to gain a favorable judgment under the decision shows that it compromised its own duty to protect the civil rights of its citizens.
Summary of the Case
The 1941 bombing of the Pearl Harbor by the Japanese military signaled the formal entry of the US in the Second World War. Initially, both the US government, then under President Franklin Roosevelt, and citizens of the US refused to treat the sizeable Japanese-American community along the West Coast adversely. Most Japanese-Americans along the West Coast have already received US citizenship, with some of them being direct descendants of immigrants who populated the area at the start of the 20th century. Yet, as the Japanese became more aggressive with the progression of the Second World War, public opinion towards the Japanese-Americans grew increasingly antagonistic in nature. The US government, initially refusing to treat the Japanese-Americans adversely, eventually gave in to mounting public pressure by issuing and implementing EO 9066, which ordered the internment of Japanese Americans from the West Coast to designated inland areas (Korematsu).
Korematsu, a Japanese-American with US citizenship born in Oakland, California, and living in the nearby town of San Leandro, challenged EO 9066 and claimed that it is unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment, which recognizes the right of citizens to due process against cases where the government denies life, liberty or property. With further assertion that EO 9066 borders on racism against Japanese-Americans, Korematsu knowingly violated EO 9066. The resultant charge and conviction from the US government prompted Korematsu to bring his case to the SC via a petition for certiorari or judicial review. The SC, knowing that the case presented before it requires the use of the strict scrutiny test due to the impending compromise against the civil rights of Japanese-Americans under EO 9066, decided 9-3 in favor of the US government and affirmed the precedent set by the case of Hirabayashi v. US. Solicitor-General Charles Fahy alleged that there is sufficient proof to establish the constitutionality of EO 9066 due to the possibility that elements of the Japanese-American population along the West Coast might be serving as spies for the Japanese Empire in the then-ongoing Second World War. Thus, considerations for national security in the face of the Second World War led the SC to pass EO 9066 under the strict scrutiny test, hence leading to the finality of the conviction of Korematsu (Korematsu).
Two SC justices – Frank Murphy and Robert Jackson, rendered their respective dissenting opinions on Korematsu v. US, with both recognizing the highly racist core of the issue. Murphy used strong words in condemning the US government in issuing EO 9066, calling the internment of Japanese-Americans to designated inland areas as one that “falls into the ugly abyss of racism”, recognizing the lack of justification to sanction such move under constitutional grounds. Additionally, Murphy has insisted that the discretion of the military in times of war, despite its wisdom, should find limits to prevent issues similar to the case. Jackson noted that any pronouncement of the military through EO 9066 should not last beyond the Second World War, regardless if it is unconstitutional or not. Therefore, Jackson emphasized the danger of asking the SC to decide on the constitutionality of EO 9066, for any decision could last beyond the end of the Second World War and may thus apply to future cases where it would find substantial bearing. With the SC having sided in favor of the US government, policies similar to EO 9066 have since gained credit from Korematsu v. US being the precedent prior to later developments in the 1980s and beyond. Therefore, Korematsu v.US lingered in controversy as a case that somewhat justified racism in lieu of the interests of the US government (Korematsu).
Overturning the Conviction of Korematsu
Further discoveries related to Korematsu v. US after its decision in 1944 has given a further twist to the controversial case. Peter Irons, a professor of law at the University of California, San Diego, discovered during the early 1980s compelling evidence dispelling the claim of the US government on the constitutionality of EO 9066. Irons discovered that Solicitor-General Fahy deliberately prevented the Federal Bureau of Intelligence (FBI) and military intelligence from releasing reports justifying that there is no sufficient proof to the claim that the Japanese-American population in the West Coast has hosted spies for the Japanese Empire. Knowing that such discovery could have a significant impact on the controversial Korematsu v. US case, Irons relayed his discovery to Korematsu himself and proposed that he file a petition before the federal court to seek a reversal of his conviction. Korematsu, convinced that his conviction was wrongful, went to court with Irons and his legal team in 1983 to petition for a writ of error coram nobis. The result went in favor of Korematsu, with himself claiming that his victory is also that of the whole Japanese-American community as they continuously seek justice from the discrimination that they experienced under the US government during the Second World War (Iyeki). Furthermore, although the SC itself did not reverse Korematsu v. US formally, the case, alongside Hirabayashi v. US, lost its power as a precedent for internment cases when the Department of Justice and the Office of the Solicitor-General recognized the writ of error coram nobis granted by the federal court to Korematsu in 2011 (The United States Department of Justice).
Implications of the Case after Decision
Korematsu v. US stood as a highly controversial decision, since it entailed the justification of discriminating a particular racial group on the grounds of national interests asserted by the US government and verified by the SC through the strict scrutiny test. Substantially, the need to intern Japanese-Americans out of the West Coast and into other areas forcibly via EO 9066 is borne out of calls to secure the US further during the Second World War. Allegations that espionage activities favoring the Japanese Empire are present within the Japanese-American population prompted the growth of public concern, which eventually pressured the US government into issuing EO 9066. Verily, the main interest that drove the issuance and implementation of EO 9066 is that of national security in light of the Second World War. The US government has sought to prevent a repeat of the tragedy at Pearl Harbor inflicted by the Japanese Empire, which caused widespread alarm across the nation due to its blatant nature of being a direct attack within US borders. At the same time, there is also an understanding that not all Japanese-Americans have grave sentiments against the US akin to that of the Japanese Empire. In fact, in the process of deciding Korematsu v. US, there is due establishment of the premise that Japanese-Americans have sworn loyalty to the US. Korematsu himself insisted that his loyalty to the US as a citizen is unquestionable, regardless of his Japanese ancestry. Yet, the US government seemed not to pay attention to such fact, as it went on to assert the constitutionality of EO 9066 and establish that violating the civil rights of a racial group sharing the same ancestry of an enemy nation is necessary to ensure national security. What the US government failed to realize at the time the SC decided Korematsu v. US in favor of them is the fact that it has alienated its own citizens – the Japanese-Americans, at a turbulent time that requires national solidarity more than divisiveness (Korematsu).
The federal court grant of the petition for a writ of error coram nobis to Korematsu served as a massive slap to the US government, having already drawn dissension from the public – particularly Japanese-Americans, for the unpopular decision of the SC in Korematsu v. US that favored its side. Firstly, the integrity of the Office of the Solicitor-General became questionable, given strong evidence that Fahy, then in charge, tried to suppress reports coming from the FBI and military intelligence on the inadequacy of proof on the claim that the Japanese-American population along the West Coast is host to a sizable number of spies for the Japanese Empire. Fahy, in defense of the US government, asserted that it is almost impossible to sift the Japanese-American population for spies; hence, the need to require their transfer to internment camps in inland areas. However, the reports from the FBI and military intelligence Fahy successfully suppressed contained information alleging that only a small number of Japanese Empire spies have thrived within the Japanese-American population and that the US government already has custody of many of them. Such reports prove highly adequate for rendering EO 9066 as an unnecessary execution of the US government and a failure under the strict scrutiny test of the SC, thus rendering military actions against the civil rights of Japanese-Americans as unconstitutional (Iyeki; Korematsu). Secondly, however, the suppression done by Fahy stands as a move seen by many as a desperate attempt by the US government to justify the wisdom of EO 6099 in response to the then-growing number of people expressing their unfounded concerns against the presence of Japanese-Americans along the West Coast. Back then, many people harbored racist ideas against the Japanese-Americans because they are of the same ancestry as that of the Japanese Empire, which bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941 and subsequently urged the US to enter the Second World War formally. A closer analysis of the developments leading to the SC decision in Korematsu v. US shows that the US government sought to appease the public over their anxiety against Japanese-Americans by seeking to formalize a ratification of the constitutionality of their actions through defending itself from the petition of Korematsu (Iyeki; The United States Department of Justice). Thirdly, the desire of the US government to justify EO 9066 stems from the necessity to protect all its citizens from any perceived disasters brought forth by the Second World War, although it ultimately failed to uphold the civil rights of part of its citizens as in the case of the Japanese-American internments. Instead of maintaining unity, protection and solidarity among citizens, the US government alienated itself from the Japanese-American faction of its citizenry, who cried foul over the poorly justified nature of their internment away from the West Coast and into internment camps. With the necessity of targeting people of Japanese ancestry for internment in light of the destruction the Japanese Empire has inflicted on Pearl Harbor, it is inevitable for one to think that EO 9066 is a racist policy, even if the Second World War has stood as an emergency to require its execution. The fact that the Solicitor-General has manipulated evidence to bring the US government to a much favorable light under the strict scrutiny test of the SC has made Korematsu v. US even more controversial (Iyeki; The United States Department of Justice).
The US government has ultimately failed to prove that EO 9066 thrives within constitutional bounds, hence fully establishing the premise that it served as a racist policy against Japanese-Americans notwithstanding the seemingly compelling demands the Second World War has posed at the time the SC decided Korematsu v.US. What made the position of the US government worse is the fact that sufficient proof has exposed that the Solicitor-General successfully manipulated evidence to lead the SC to decide in its favor. The evidence that downplayed the necessity of Japanese-American internment to inland areas of the US revealed close to 40 years after the decision in Korematsu v. US duly established that the US government has violated the civil rights of Japanese-Americans in favor of growing negative public opinion against them during the Second World War. Therefore, it is noteworthy to emphasize that Korematsu v. US no longer stands as a case with considerable merit as a precedent to future cases involving internment and other similar ones that cover civil rights protection on the grounds of race and other social classifications.
Iyeki, Marc Hideo. "The Japanese American Coram Nobis Cases: Exposing the Myth of Disloyalty." New York University Review of Law and Social Change 13 (1984-1985). Web.
The United States Department of Justice. “Confession of Error: The Solicitor General’s Mistakes During the Japanese-American Internment Cases.” The Justice Blog. The United States Department of Justice, 20 May 2011. Web. 4 Aug. 2013.
Toyosaburo Korematsu v. United States. 323 U.S. 214. Supreme Court of the United States. 1944. Legal Information Institute, Cornell University Law School. Web. 4 Aug. 2013.