October 11th, 1944

United States Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Korematsu v. United States

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the United States declared war on Japan. In February 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, authorizing military exclusion of any citizens from areas deemed critical to national defense and potentially vulnerable to espionage. Congress made disobeying the military orders a crime and forced more than 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry to accept internment or face arrest.

In May 1942, Fred Korematsu, a twenty-three-year-old Japanese American born in Oakland, California, was arrested and jailed for refusing to obey the relocation and internment order. After his arrest, Mr. Korematsu was approached by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and agreed to use his case to challenge the internment of Japanese Americans. After he was convicted in the trial court and his conviction affirmed on appeal, Mr. Korematsu and his lawyers appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

On October 11 and 12, 1944, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Korematsu v. United States. Mr. Korematsu challenged Executive Order 9066 as unconstitutional and argued that the enforcement of exclusion and detention orders violated Japanese Americans’ basic constitutional rights.

On December 18, 1944, in a 6-3 decision, the Court ruled in favor of the United States, holding that the need to protect the nation was a greater priority than the individual rights of Japanese Americans. The Court further held that, during times of war, the government is allowed to pass laws that may not be legal in times of peace. The ruling permitted the continued internment of Japanese Americans, including Fred Korematsu, until the end of the war.

In 1983, Congress created the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, and its resulting report concluded that the relocation and imprisonment of Japanese Americans had been unjustified. The commission recommended Congress apologize and provide compensation to survivors and their families. In 1988, Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act, which formally apologized for the injustices committed against Japanese Americans, provided reparations to survivors, and created a public education fund to encourage remembrance.