Redress for Japanese Americans/ Court cases

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This article series was part of the spring 2007 Student Editor Program - Asian Pacific Americans and American Public Policy. For more information about how to use this site in the classroom, see the main informational page or contact Congresspedia Managing Editor Conor Kenny at File:Conoremail.png.

This article is part of Congresspedia’s coverage of Japanese Americans and Japanese Latin Americans and U.S. Policy During World War II

The series was part of the Student Editor Program - Asian Pacific Americans and American Public Policy.

The following focuses on significant court cases that have shaped civil and human rights for Japanese Americans, as well as for other minorities. These cases have been the cause and/or catalyst to many changes in United States law. But mainly they have resulted in adjusting the perception of Asian immigrants in the eyes of the American government.



The situation of Japanese Americans during World War II finds many parallels with that of Southern- and Western-Asian Americans in the United States today. The situations are similar in the sense that suspicion and mistreatment of Japanese Americans escalated after the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese fleet on December 7, 1941, just as the American relationship with Southern and Western Asians experienced after the terrorist attacks on America on September 11, 2001.

At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor most of the Japanese Americans were concentrated in the California area, with approximately 112,000 persons of Japanese descent living in California, Arizona, and western Oregon and Washington. (Brown 2007) Most of this population had arrived in the country over the course of the previous century (i.e., 1850’s onwards) to find work. Most of this work was manual, consisting of mining, fishing and agricultural activities. The Japanese American population was concentrated in the California area at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor. (Brown 2007)

The Japanese American population was divided into two primary groups: the Issei (who were immigrants to the U.S. who had been born in Japan) and the Nisei (second- and later-generation children of the Issei, who has been born and brought up in America).

Even when they arrived in America to work as manual laborers, it was felt that the Japanese were too many in number. It was believed by the indigenous population that they were “inassimilable and potentially capable of overrunning the state.” The Asiatic Exclusion League, formed in May 1905, mounted a campaign to exclude Japanese and Koreans from the United States. Under pressure from the league, the San Francisco Board of Education ruled on October 11, 1906 that all Japanese and Korean students should join the Chinese at the segregated Oriental School that had been established in 1884. (“A History of Japanese Americans in California”)

“To appease those Californians who were agitating for cessation of Japanese immigration without offending the Japanese government,” President Roosevelt implemented the 1907-08 Gentleman's Agreement, “whereby the Japanese government agreed not to issue passports to laborers immigrating to the United States” (“A History of Japanese Americans in California”).

Even prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans - like the Chinese American population - found themselves subjected to “the yellow peril stereotype” (Brown 2007), which was reinforced by Japan's military victory over Russia in 1905 and spiraled almost uncontrollably after the attack on Pearl Harbor, especially on America’s West Coast. There were also Italian and German first- as well as later-generation immigrants in America at the time, but curiously, these populations did not suffer much retribution from the indigenous American population for their home countries’ role in the Second World War.

Barely two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt implemented Executive Order 9066, which is widely believed to be one of America’s most serious constitutional failures (Tateishi and Yoshino 2000). The government issued this decree to support the relocation of the Japanese American community, which was rapidly becoming known as a hostile enemy population, to segregated areas. U.S. Attorney General Francis Biddle declared that the West Coast had become a high-security area, and that the Japanese Americans living there had to be forcibly relocated.

Main article: Japanese American life under U.S. policies before and during World War II

Court cases dealing with the imprisonment of Japanese Americans

Hirabayashi v. the United States, 1943

Gordon Hirabayashi was convicted in terms of the violation of a curfew imposed at the time, which proclaimed that “all persons of Japanese ancestry residing in such an area be within their place of residence daily between the hours of 8:00 p. m. and 6:00 a.m.” (Randall 2001). Hirabayashi, who was a student of the University of Washington at the time, “felt that the curfew violated his 5th Amendment right of due process. He disobeyed it.” (“Hirabayashi Versus the United States,” 2005) He further did not report for confinement to the bus that was supposed to take him to the camp he had been assigned to, which led to the charges against him becoming more severe. It was only in 1987 that the charges against Hirabayashi were dropped by the Supreme Court: “It took 40 years for a legal scholar reviewing declassified government documents to unearth memos sent by the government lawyers arguing before the Supreme Court to their superiors. In the memos, they complained that they were being forced to tell lies in court about the threat posed by the Japanese.” (“Hirabayashi Versus the United States, 2005)

The discussion this case sparked involved two key issues. The first was one of power, and if the curfew law was unconstitutional. The second issue was the question of racial discrimination, a constant theme within all of these cases.

Another landmark case concerning the curfew law is Yasui v. the United States. (Which can be found here.)

Mitsuye Endo v. the United States, 1943

Mitsuye Endo was a Nisei who had been working as a stenographer at the Department of Motor Vehicles in Sacramento, the capital of California. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor and the relocation process, she was forced to move to a segregated camp in Utah with her family. Like the other one hundred thousand Japanese Americans who were removed from their homes and sources of livelihood, Endo also found herself summarily dismissed from her job, without any hope of reinstatement or return to her home in California.

Endo hired a lawyer, James Purcell, to represent her legal protest against her illegal relocation and dismissal. Purcell and Endo filed a writ of habeas corpus in court as a representation of her plea. The writ requested that Endo be released from the relocation camp so that she could challenge the terms of her dismissal. However, the court agreed to releasing Endo outside the West Coast area only:

"The U.S. government responded by offering to release Endo outside the West Coast rather than test the constitutionality of detention. Endo bravely refused the offer and remained confined without charge for another two years as she pursued her case." (“Mitsuye Endo Persevering for Justice”)

It was two years later that the U.S. Supreme Court decreed that persons of Japanese descent could not be held in confinement without proof of their disloyalty, stating that “detention in Relocation Centers of persons of Japanese ancestry regardless of loyalty is not only unauthorized by the Congress or the Executive, but it is another example of the unconstitutional resort to racism in the entire evacuation program” (“Mitsuye Endo Persevering for Justice”), and Endo and thousands of her fellow detainees were allowed to return to their homes on the Pacific Coast.

This case was special for a few reasons. First, Endo was a woman, while the other three internment cases dealt with Japanese American men. And secondly, this case was different because it arose from a habeas corpus petition.

Korematsu v. the United States, 1944

The Korematsu v. United States case focused on Japanese Americans who were denied citizenship and forced to relocate. Fred Korematsu refused to obey the wartime order to leave his home and report to a relocation camp for Japanese Americans. He was arrested and convicted. After losing in the Court of Appeals, he appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, challenging the constitutionality of the deportation order.

The Supreme Court upheld the order excluding persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast war zone during World War II. Three justices dissented.

Justice Hugo Black said that legal restrictions on the rights of a single racial group will always be “suspect” and that “courts must subject them to the most rigid scrutiny.” However, they are not necessarily unconstitutional, he said.

"[The exclusion order imposed hardships] upon a large group of American citizens... But hardships are part of war. Compulsory exclusion of large groups of citizens from their homes, except under circumstances of direst emergency and peril, is inconsistent with our basic governmental institutions. But when under conditions of modern warfare our shores are threatened by hostile forces, the power to protect must be commensurate with the threatened danger.”

In Justice Owen Roberts' dissent he wrote that “is the case of convicting a citizen as a punishment for not submitting to imprisonment in a concentration camp, based on his ancestry, and solely because of his ancestry, without evidence or inquiry concerning his loyalty and good disposition towards the United States.” Justice Robert Jackson said that comparable burdens were not imposed upon descendants of the other nationalities such as Germans and Italians with whom the United States was also at war.[1]

The Coram Nobis cases, 1980s

In the 1980s, the Korematsu, Hirabayashi, and Yasui cases would be reopened by coram nobis petitions. These proceedings would eventually nullify the convictions of the 1940s.

The Korematsu case, as well as a thorough account of his life can be found at this website[2]

A summary of Hirabayashi's life story is available at this site[3]

Court cases dealing with redress

In the U.S., the right to redress is defined as a constitutional right, as it is decreed in the First Amendment to the Constitution. Redress as a noun may be defined as:

  1. the setting right of what is wrong: redress of abuses.
  2. relief from wrong or injury.
  3. compensation or satisfaction from a wrong or injury.

Reparation as a noun is defined as

  1. the making of amends for wrong or injury done: reparation for an injustice.
  2. Usually, reparations. compensation in money, material, labor, etc., payable by a defeated country to another country or to an individual for loss suffered during or as a result of war.
  3. restoration to good condition.
  4. repair.
(“Legacies of Incarceration,” 2002)

The campaign for redress against illegal atrocities was launched by Japanese Americans in 1978. The Japanese American Citizens’ League (JACL) asked for three measures to be taken as redress:

  1. $25,000 to be awarded to each person who was detained;
  2. An apology from Congress acknowledging publicly that the U.S. government had been wrong; and
  3. The release of funds to set up an educational foundation for the children of Japanese American families.

Under the 2001 budget of the United States, it was decreed that the ten sites on which the detainee camps were set up are to be preserved as historical landmarks: “places like Manzanar, Tule Lake, Heart Mountain, Topaz, Amache, Jerome, and Rohwer will forever stand as reminders that this nation failed in its most sacred duty to protect its citizens against prejudice, greed, and political expediency” (Tateishi and Yoshino 2000). Each of these concentration camps was surrounded by barbed wire and contained at least ten thousand forced detainees.

Hohri v. the United States, 1986

One lawsuit seeking redress for the imprisonment of Japanese Americans was Hohri v. the United States in 1986. The plaintiffs in this case were nineteen Japanese Americans and their descendants, who brought “civil actions against the United States seeking declaratory relief and compensation for injuries sustained when the detainees were forced to evacuate their homes and relocate to internment camps during the Second World War” (Leigh 1986, p. 648).

William Minoru Hohri was living in San Francisco when he was removed and forcibly incarcerated during World War II in Manzanar. He filed the case on behalf of all the incarceration victims, claiming that apart from injuries, the prisoners suffered “"summary removal from their homes, imprisonment in racially segregated prison camps, and mass deprivations of their constitutional rights" (“Legacies of Incarceration,” 2002). Although the case was dismissed the following year, it remains indicative of many of the claims for redress made by Japanese Americans.

Clippings from some of these cases as well as related topics can be found here.

Apology by President Ford

Executive Order 9066 was finally repealed by President Gerald Ford in 1976, who stated that "We now know what we should have known then--not only was that evacuation wrong, but Japanese-Americans were and are loyal Americans” (“Legacies of Incarceration,” 2000).

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch/Congresspedia resources


  1. "Korematsu v. United States," Pearson Education found via Infoplease, 2005.
  2. Eric Yamamoto and May Lee. "Excerpts from A BRIEF BIOGRAPHY: FRED KOREMATSU," Asian American Bar Association.
  3. "Hirabayashi, Gordon K," HistoryLink.

External resources

External articles

  • “Mitsuye Endo Persevering for Justice,” Women's Leadership in American History, City University of New York website. This article from the women’s history section of the City University in New York website relates the events pertaining to Mitsuye Endo’s battle against American courts for release from the relocation camp she was confined to and reinstatement to her job. See also the Endo v. the United States ruling (pdf).
  • USA Japan Act This page provides extensive first-hand accounts and testimonies of Japanese Americans on their treatment in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the government’s subsequent decision to place all Japanese Americans in confinement within the interiors of the country. The various testimonies describe how the camps were overcrowded, and many prisoners committed suicide; businesses collapsed, leaving people without a means of livelihood even after their eventual release; many people lost family members who were forcibly removed from such gatherings at weddings and taken to undisclosed destinations; and how the detainees were forcibly confined in prisons which “were little better than concentration camps.”
  • Leigh, M. (1986). Hohri v. United States. The American Journal of International Law, 80(3): 648-651.
  • Randall, V.R. (2002). “Internment of Japanese Americans at Concentration camps.” Randall reveals that in addition to the forced incarcerations of Japanese Americans, Peruvians of Japanese descent were also essentially abducted from their homes in Peru and detained at incarceration camps in the U.S. during World War II. This page also contains several links to informative articles on the subject of incarceration and redress.
  • "Caught in the Crossfire: Arab Americans," This article reveals how not only have American Muslims suffered prejudices as a result of their ethnicity, but that there is also fear of police and other authorities to the extent that people in such communities are not reporting crimes, for fear of racist discrimination against the victims of such crimes.
  • "Korematsu v. United States (1944)". This case is about Fred Korematsu, who refused to obey the wartime order to leave his home and report to a relocation camp for Japanese Americans. He was arrested and convicted. After losing in the Court of Appeals, he appealed to the United States Supreme Court, challenging the constitutionality of the deportation order.