Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944)
Although strict scrutiny is the appropriate standard for policies that distinguish people based on race, an executive order interning American citizens of Japanese descent and removing many of their constitutional protections passed this standard. This decision has been largely discredited and repudiated.
As part of the response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor during the Second World War, the U.S. government decided to require Japanese-Americans to move into relocation camps as a matter of national security. President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 in February 1942, two months after Pearl Harbor, and it was implemented three months later by Civilian Restrictive Order No. 1, 8 Fed. Reg. 982 and Civilian Exclusion Order No. 34 of the U.S. Army. These orders applied to all Japanese-Americans in the U.S., whether or not they were suspected of sabotage or other conduct detrimental to the war effort.
A Japanese-American man living in San Leandro, Fred Korematsu, chose to stay at his residence rather than obey the order to relocate. Korematsu was arrested and convicted of violating the order. He responded by arguing that Executive Order 9066 violated the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution because habeas corpus had not been suspended, and his right to libery was being infringed by military action without due process of law.
The Ninth Circuit affirmed Korematsu's conviction, based on deference to the executive branch during wartime, and he appealed.
- Hugo Lafayette Black (Author)
- Harlan Fiske Stone
- Stanley Forman Reed
- William Orville Douglas
- Wiley Blount Rutledge
Black and the Justices who joined his opinion felt that the Executive Order did not show racial prejudice but rather responded to the strategic imperative of keeping the U.S. and particularly the West Coast (the region nearest Japan) secure from sabotage and invasion. They relied heavily on a 1941 decision, Hirabayashi v. U.S., which addressed similar issues. Black argued that the validation of the military's decision by Congress merited even more deference.
- Felix Frankfurter (Author)
While it relied on a few different precedents from the majority's reasoning, Frankfurter's concurrence was based on the same logic of deference to military authorities in wartime.
- Frank Murphy (Author)
This dissent argued that the Executive Order and the policies implementing it were racist in nature. It contrasted them with the more lenient treatment of German-Americans and Italian-Americans, who also had connections to nations with which the U.S. was simultaneously at war.
- Robert Houghwout Jackson (Author)
Justice Jackson took a more measured approach than Murphy, agreeing with the majority insofar as the additional deference owed to the military during wartime. However, he argued that this deference was not a blank check, and that courts still could overrule actions by the military that were unconstitutional. Jackson feared that this decision would create a dangerous precedent for future national emergencies.
- Owen Josephus Roberts (Author)
Roberts had assisted a commission that investigated the attack on Pearl Harbor and was critical of the conduct of the U.S. military during that process. This experience may have contributed to his dissent, which was closer in reasoning to Murphy than Jackson.Case Commentary
This decision is not one of the Court's proudest moments and is widely recognized now as a mistake, driven by the panic after the Pearl Harbor attack. The U.S. government provided compensation to people affected by the deportation decades later. However, from a legal perspective, the decision did delineate the strict scrutiny standard of review that later played a role in combating discrimination.
U.S. Supreme CourtKorematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944)
Korematsu v. United States
Argued October 11, 12, 1944
Decided December 18, 1944
323 U.S. 214
1. Civilian Exclusion Order No. 34 which, during a state of war with Japan and as a protection against espionage and sabotage, was promulgated by the Commanding General of the Western Defense Command under authority of Executive Order No. 9066 and the Act of March 21, 1942, and which directed the exclusion after May 9, 1942, from a described West Coast military area of all persons of Japanese ancestry, held constitutional as of the time it was made and when the petitioner -- an American citizen of Japanese descent whose home was in the described area -- violated it. P. 323 U. S. 219.
2. The provisions of other orders requiring persons of Japanese ancestry to report to assembly centers and providing for the detention of such persons in assembly and relocation centers were separate, and their validity is not in issue in this proceeding. P. 323 U. S. 222.
3. Even though evacuation and detention in the assembly center were inseparable, the order under which the petitioner was convicted was nevertheless valid. P. 323 U. S. 223.
140 F.2d 289, affirmed.
CERTIORARI, 321 U.S. 760, to review the affirmance of a judgment of conviction.