April 2, 2005


Fred Korematsu, 86, Dies; Lost Key Suit on Internment (RICHARD GOLDSTEIN, 4/01/05, NY Times)

Fred T. Korematsu, who lost a Supreme Court challenge in 1944 to the wartime internment of Japanese-Americans but gained vindication decades later when he was given the Medal of Freedom, died on Wednesday in Larkspur, Calif. Mr. Korematsu, who lived in San Leandro, Calif., was 86.

The cause was a respiratory ailment, said Don Tamaki, a lawyer for Mr. Korematsu.

When he was arrested in 1942 for failing to report to an internment center, Mr. Korematsu was working as a welder and simply hoping to be left alone so he could pursue his marriage plans. He became a central figure in the controversy over the wartime removal of more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans and Japanese immigrants from the West Coast to inland detention centers. He emerged as a symbol of resistance to government authority.

When President Bill Clinton presented Mr. Korematsu with the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award, in January 1998, the president likened him to Linda Brown and Rosa Parks in the civil rights struggles of the 1950's. [...]

In December 1944 in Korematsu v. the United States, the Supreme Court upheld internment by a vote of 6 to 3. Justice Hugo L. Black, remembered today as a stout civil liberties advocate, wrote in the opinion that Mr. Korematsu was not excluded "because of hostility to him or his race" but because the United States was at war with Japan, and the military "feared an invasion of our West Coast."

In dissenting, Justice Frank Murphy wrote that the exclusion order "goes over the very brink of constitutional power and falls into the ugly abyss of racism."

The case was revisited long afterward when Peter Irons, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, discovered documents that indicated that when it went to the Supreme Court, the government had suppressed its own findings that Japanese-Americans on the West Coast were not, in fact, security threats.

One of the mosdt amusing things about successive generations of nativists is that they hold up the groups their fathers and grandfathers fought against as models of how immigrants should assimilate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 2, 2005 8:01 AM
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