Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214; 65 S. Ct. 193; 89 L. Ed. 194 (1944)

Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214; 65 S. Ct. 193; 89 L. Ed. 194 (1944)

Facts—Korematsu, an American citizen of Japanese ancestry, remained in California after the Commanding General of the Western Defense Command ordered it cleared of all persons of Japanese descent under Executive Order 34, itself based on Executive Order No. 9066 and on an act of Congress. He refused to leave and was convicted under the law.

Question—Was the executive order excluding Japanese Americans from areas of the West Coat a proper exercise of the war power?


ReasonsJ. Black (6–3). Although agreeing that racial classifications were suspect and should be subject to the highest judicial scrutiny, Black argued that “Korematsu was not excluded from the Military Area because of hostility to him or his race. He was excluded because we are at war with the Japanese Empire, because the properly constituted military authorities feared an invasion of our West Coast and felt constrained to take proper security measures, because they decided that the military urgency of the situation demanded that all citizens of Japanese ancestry be segregated from the West Coast temporarily, and finally, because Congress, reposing its confidence in this time of war in our military leaders—as inevitably it must—determined that they should have the power to do just this. There was evidence of disloyalty on the part of some, the military authorities considered that the need for action was great, and time was short. We cannot—by availing ourselves of the calm perspective of hindsight—now say that at that time these actions were unjustified.”

In dissent, J. Roberts, J. Jackson, and J. Murphy distinguished this case from an earlier decision in Hirabayashi v. United States, 320 U.S. 81 (1943), which had permitted curfews for Japanese Americans. Murphy believed the military decision to exclude Japanese Americans from the West Coast had been based on racism while Jackson focused chiefly on the dangerousness of the precedent that he thought the Court was setting.

Note—The only question presented here was the right of the military to evacuate persons. Rather than martial law, the war power was used. The Court refused to rule on the basic constitutional issues of the relocation, confinement, and segregation of Japanese Americans.

During the Reagan administration, Congress adopted legislation compensating the living victims of the exclusion and relocation orders. The U.S. Supreme Court subsequently refused to review and thus left in place lower court decisions overruling the original decision because it had been based on misleading information supplied by military authorities.

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