Korematsu v. United States

Dec. 18, 1944

Why It Happened?

On Feb. 19, 1942, two months after the Pearl Harbor attack by Japan’s military and US entered World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, the military issued an order banning "all persons of Japanese ancestry, both alien and non-alien” from a designated coastal area stretching from Washington State to southern Arizona, and hastily set up internment camps to hold the Japanese Americans for the duration of the war.

Korematsu feel isolating people from the general population for no good reason is a direct violation of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. In defiance of the order, Fred Korematsu, an American-born citizen of Japanese descent, refused to leave his home in San Leandro, California. Duly convicted, he appealed, and in 1944 his case reached the Supreme Court.

What Did It Solve

In May 1942, Korematsu, an American citizen of Japanese descent, was convicted in federal court of “knowingly remaining in a designated military area in San Leandro, California.” His action violated Exclusion Order #34 and Executive Order #9066 of 1942, which had been issued to protect the West Coast from acts of espionage and sabotage. The Acts required all Japanese-Americans living in restricted areas to go to inland relocation centers. Korematsu believed the order violated his constitutional rights. Korematsu brought his case to the Supreme Court by stating that imprisonment of his people was a direct violation of civil liberties and the human rights afforded to American citizens in the United States Constitution.


What Did It Change?

Whether Executive Order #9066 of 1942 violated Korematsu’s Fourteenth Amendment, the right to equal protection of the law and the Fifth Amendment, the right to life, liberty, and property; but because of the special circumstance of the world war, Congress or the President had the power to violate Korematsu’s constitutional rights.

In a rare decision, 6-3, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that an entire race could be labeled a “suspect classification,” meaning that the government was permitted to deny the Japanese their constitutional rights because of military considerations.

The Court ruled that such exclusion was not beyond the war powers of Congress and the President since their interest in national security is more than people’s natural rights.

Who Won?

In a 6-3 opinion, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the United States. Justice Black wrote the majority opinion. The majority concluded that the President and Congress did not act outside of their constitutional authority, and that the exclusion order did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment. Justice Murphy dissented, arguing that the exclusion order was primarily based on racism. Justice Jackson and Justice Roberts also dissented.