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Legal Brief of Korematsu v. United States (1944) by: David A.W. Hittle

Korematsu v. United States (1944) Vote: 6-3 323 U.S. 214; 65 S.Ct. 193; 89 L. Ed. 194 (1944)


The Facts of the case are these: The Petitioner [Korematsu], an American citizen of Japanese descent, was convicted in a federal district court for remaining in San Leandro, California, a “military area,” contrary to Civilian Exclusion Order No. 34, which directed that after May 9, 1942, all person of Japanese ancestry should be excluded from that area. No Question was raised as to [Korematsu] loyalty to the U.S. The Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, and in the importance of the Constitutional Question involved causes us to grant Certiorari.


The Issues of the case are these: 1. Does the President of the United States have the power by Executive Order to “relocate” American citizens based upon their race or ethnicity?


The Decision in this case by a vote of 6 to 3 is this: Does the President of the United States have the power by Executive Order to “relocate” American citizens based upon race or ethnicity? Yes, The President as Commander and Chief and Congress during war time may make these types of decisions…


Justice Black delivered the Majority Opinion of the Court: Justice Black opined that because there was evidence of Japanese Americans Citizens being a danger to the National Security of the United States, that the President and Congress have the right to make these decisions in extreme circumstances such as these.


Justice Frankfurter Concurred


Justice Roberts, and Justice Murphy Dissent, they state: “The judicial test of whether the government, on a plea of military necessity, can validly deprive an individual of any of his constitutional rights is whether the deprivation is reasonably related to a public danger that is so ‘immediate, eminent, and impending’ as to not to admit of delay and not to permit the intervention of ordinary constitutional processes to alleviate the danger.” He opines that the Exclusion Order No. 34 clearly does not meet that test and is obviously racial discrimination. He state that it deprives these individuals of their constitutional rights to live and work where they will… They opine that the Commanding General’s final report showed racial guilt when he concluded that there are over “112,000 potential enemies at large…” He further states that there was “no adequate reason given for the failure to treat these Japanese Americans on an individual basis by holding investigations and hearings to separate the loyal from the disloyal… He ends by stating: “I dissent, therefore, from this legalization of racism.”


Justice Jackson also dissented in his own opinion: “If any fundamental assumption underlies our system, this that guilt is personal and not inheritable. Even if ones’ antecedents had been convicted of treason, the Constitution forbids penalties to be visited upon him, for it provides that “no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood, or forfeiture except during the life of the person attained.”


The decision allowed for the President and for Congress to make snap decisions during war time situations, even to go as far as restricting or suspending someone’s constitutional rights.