1943 June 21

Hirabayashi: Supreme Court Upholds Japanese-American Curfew

 

Gordon Hirabayashi was convicted of violating the curfew affecting Japanese-Americans in Seattle in 1942. In Hirabayashi v. United States — the first Japanese-American case to reach the Supreme Court — the Court upheld the curfew on this day. The evacuation and internment of the Japanese-Americans during World War II is regarded as possibly the greatest civil liberties tragedy in American history. See President Roosevelt’s Executive Order authorizing the evacuation of the Japanese-Americans on February 19, 1942.

The Supreme Court’s subsequent decision, Korematsu v. United States on December 18, 1944, upheld the constitutionality of the removal of Japanese-Americans from the designated military zones. The government officially ended the program on December 17, 1944, one day before the Ex parte Endo decision, on December 18, 1944, in which the Court held that the government could not detain admittedly loyal individuals. The Court’s two decisions, Hirabayashi and Korematsu, are widely regarded as among the worst decisions in the history of the Supreme Court.

In 2012 President Barack Obama awarded posthumously the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Gordon Hirabayashi.

Justice Stone for the Court: “Distinctions between citizens solely because of their ancestry are by their very nature odious to a free people whose institutions are founded upon the doctrine of equality. . . .  [But]  . . . The fact alone that attack on our shores was threatened by Japan rather than another enemy power set these citizens apart from others who have no particular associations with Japan.”

Watch an interview with Gordon Hirabayashi: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VNrUrEj7HU

Learn more about the Japanese American evacuation and internment: Peter Irons, Justice at War: The Story of the Japanese-American Internment Cases (1983)

Learn more about Gordon Hirabayashi: http://encyclopedia.densho.org/Gordon_Hirabayashi/

Read: Greg Robinson, By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans (2001)

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