On February 19, 1942, executive order 9066 designated how the United States military should handle military operations and protect against sabotage and espionage. It prescribed military areas and determined who may be excluded from these areas. This executive order resulted in the evacuation and internment of some 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry. Persons with even 1/16 Japanese ancestry were placed into so-called War Relocation Camps.
One man did not abide by the order. Fred Korematsu refused to report for his evacuation. He was eventually caught and shipped to the Topaz camp in Arizona. A local branch of the American Civil Liberties Union in northern California took up his case which went before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Dr. Mark Hurwitz spoke on March 31, explaining Korematsu v. United States giving us a crash course in presidential executive orders during times of war. As an associate professor of political science at Western Michigan University, Hurwitz teaches classes in constitutional law, and always discusses Korematsu v. United States. Inevitably some of his students will be surprised to learn about the evacuation and internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
“Students come to me with a dumbfounded look, saying ‘I had no idea.’” Teaching Korematsu v. United States is Hurwitz’s way of making sure history does not repeat itself.
To understand the court case, Dr. Hurwitz explained, one must understand that the President of the United States, has a great deal of latitude in times of war. The expansion of war powers began with President Lincoln during the Civil War and had expanded over the decades. After the Japanese Empire’s attack on Pearl Harbor, there was a “real and legitimate fear that the West coast would be attacked. Defense contractors were decimated. The military was a sitting duck.”
Recognizing that the President has power beyond what is in the Constitution and being unwilling to interfere with Congress or the military, the U.S. Supreme Court voted to uphold executive order 9066. It was not unanimous decision, however. There were three dissenting justices: Robert Jackson, Owen Roberts and Frank Murphy (former governor of Michigan).
Years later, the United States made an official apology for the internment and paid reparations of some $1.2 billion. In 1998, Fred Korematsu was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton.
“Defining Moments: Frank Murphy, Fred Korematsu, and the Internment of Japanese Americans During World War II” Is a documentary produced by the Michigan Bar Association and Michigan Government Television. Among those interviewed in the documentary are Iwao and Mary Ishino of East Lansing, who were our guests for the March 25 program about the internment.
If you’d like to read the proceedings of Korematsu v United States, pay a visit to KPL’s law library.
Korematsu v. United States