Korematsu – An Old Case Gains New Relevance

Earlier this month, the Alameda County Law Library hosted the annual Witkin Symposium.  The speakers were authors of a recently published young-adult title, Fred Korematsu Speaks UpThe book tells the story of Fred Korematsu, a Japanese American who grew up in Alameda County.  Korematsu was one of the few citizens to challenge the law involving the mass incarceration of West Coast residents during World War II.  An executive order required the resettlement of Japanese Americans out of their homes and into internment camps.   Korematsu’s conviction for violating these rules by remaining in San Leandro was appealed to the United States Supreme Court.  The Court ruled for the government on national security grounds.

The top court’s ruling in the case has never been overturned but Korematsu petitioned to have his conviction overturned which the United States District Court did in 1984.

Korematsu cases

Korematsu v. United States, 323 US 214, 65 S. Ct. 193, 89 L. Ed. 194, 1944 –  “Petitioner, an American citizen of Japanese descent, was convicted in the United States district court for remaining in a designated military area contrary to Civilian Exclusion Order No. 34 of the Commanding General of the Western Command, U.S. Army, which directed that after May 9, 1942, all persons of Japanese ancestry should be excluded from that area.”

Korematsu v. United States, 584 F. Supp 1406 (1984) – “Petitioner citizen sought a writ of coram nobis to vacate his conviction on the grounds of governmental misconduct.  The citizen was convicted of being in a place from which all persons of Japanese ancestry were excluded pursuant to Civilian Exclusion Order No. 34. “  The court granted the citizen’s petition for a writ of coram nobis.

 Muslim travel ban

The effect of the Korematsu case still echoes through the United States legal system.   Korematsu has been under discussion, this month, in the Ninth Circuit when it was referenced in the arguments in the Trump Administration’s travel ban appeal.  (9th Cir., State of Hawaii, et al. v. Trump, No. 17-15589)  Questions involve the proper extent of federal government authority to insure national security.

You can find discussion at:

Legal scholars have continued to write about the case over the years.  Here is a link to a recent piece published on the American Bar Association site –  Yolanda C. RondonIs Korematsu Really Dead?, 41 Human Rights 23  (2015).

Fred Korematsu Speaks Up

Fred Korematsu Speaks Up is written by Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi with illustrations by Yutaka Houlette.  The title is published by the Berkeley firm of Heyday.  The title is currently found on ACLL’s New Materials Cart, call number ~ KF 228.K59 A87 2017.  Its aim is to educated a younger audience on the continuing need to stand up against discrimination whenever it is found in our society.

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