Mar 7, 2011
On Friday, January 28, 2011, California Governor Jerry Brown officially proclaimed Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution – as if the constitution protects civil liberties. In fact, the story of Fred Korematsu shows the exact opposite.
Right after the U.S. entered World War II in 1941, the government carried out a witch hunt against people of Japanese descent, sending 120,000 people to internment camps. But Korematsu, a shipyard worker who had been born in this country, refused to go. He was arrested, convicted, placed on five year probation, and sent to an internment camp in Utah. Korematsu appealed his conviction and internment to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 1944, in a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court sided with the government, claiming that sweeping up entire populations, dumping them in internment camps – that is, concentration camps – was perfectly legal, as long as the government decided it was a period of “emergency and peril.”
So much for “civil rights and the Constitution!”
The Supreme Court eventually did throw out the government’s conviction of Korematsu ... although not until 1984, when the court ruled that the government had suppressed evidence in the original trial. But that was all. The highest court did not call into question the government’s authority to send masses of people to concentration camps or internment camps.
Having his conviction tossed out did not shut Korematsu up. After September 11, 2001, when the government carried out its witch hunt against people of Middle Eastern descent, Korematsu denounced it. He helped in their legal defense, filing court briefs citing his own case in several appeals to the Supreme Court.
Until his death in 2005, Korematsu did not stop denouncing these kinds of legally sanctioned witch hunts and persecutions – attacks that continue to this day, with the complete legal sanction of the courts.