The Supreme Court Internment Cases

The four Supreme Court cases: Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayashi, Min Yasui and Mitsuye Endo

 

During World War II, there were four cases challenging the Japanese American internment that reached the U.S. Supreme Court:

  • Korematsu v. United States challenged the Japanese American internment order. The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 against Korematsu in 1944. In 1983, the case was re-opened in a federal district court and Mr. Korematsu’s 40 year-old conviction was vacated.
  • Hirabayashi v. United States challenged the curfew order imposed on Japanese Americans. The Supreme Court ruled 9-0 against Hirabayashi in 1943. In 1987, the case was re-opened in a federal district court and Mr. Hirabayashi’s conviction was vacated.
  • Yasui v. United States challenged the curfew order imposed on Japanese Americans. In 1984, the case was re-opened in a federal district court. While Mr. Yasui’s conviction was vacated, the court refused to review the claims of prosecutorial misconduct. Mr. Yasui’s death in 1986 halted his legal team’s efforts to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.
  • Ex parte Mitsuye Endo challenged Endo’s individual detainment. The Supreme Court ruled 9-0 in Endo’s favor in 1944.

The Coram Nobis Cases

Coram nobis plaintiffs Gordon Hirabayashi, Min Yasui and Fred Korematsu. (Photo by Steven Okazaki. For permission to reprint, please go to our press room)

After Fred Korematsu’s legal team announced the filing of his coram nobis petition at the San Francisco Press Club on January 19, 1983, separate but similar petitions were filed in Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington, to re-open the cases of Min Yasui and Gordon Hirabayashi.

A writ of error coram nobis, meaning “the error before us,” is brought to a court after the petitioner is no longer in custody.  The petitioner asks for the re-opening of the case based upon proof that a manifest error had been committed before the court.  For example, the writ is issued where the prosecutor may have suppressed facts and the misconduct might have changed the outcome of the case.

 

Further resources

  • Lorraine K. Bannai, Taking the Stand: The Lessons of Three Men Who Took the Japanese American Internment to Court, 4 Seattle J. Soc. Just. 1 (2005) — available for download in pdf form
  • Irons, Peter. Justice at War: the Story of the Japanese American Internment Cases. University of California Press, 1993. Order it here.
  • Irons, Peter. The Courage of their Convictions: Sixteen Americans who fought their way to the Supreme Court. (New York: Penguin Books,1990). Order it here.
  • Okazaki, Steven. Unfinished Business: the Japanese-American Internment Cases (Unfinished Business was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Documentary Feature category in 1984). 58 minutes. Watch the trailer here. Order the film here.