Korematsu v. United States was one of the few cases where the Supreme Court ruled that discrimination based on race is constitutional. Even though the court wrongly ruled against him, Korematsu's case demonstrates the importance of a dissent in a democratic society. His courageous stand strengthens our Constitution and the nation as a whole. He fought for his rights when the rest of the Japanese American population stood silent. His actions helped to secure equal justice for all Americans, regardless of our differences.
"As an American citizen being put through this shame and embarrassment and also all Japanese American citizens who were escorted to concentration camps, suffered the same embarrassment, we can never forget this incident as long as we live. As long as my record stands in federal court, any American citizen can be held in prison or concentration camps without a trial or a hearing . . . Therefore, I would like to see the government admit that they were wrong and do something about it so this will never happen again to any American citizen of any race, creed, or color." - Fred Korematsu
Personal Interview with Professor Ann Piccard
Stetson University College of Law on the Significance of Korematsu v. United States
In 1976, President Ford issued Proclamation 4417, which terminated Executive Order 9066. It stated "We now know what we should have known then--not only was that evacuation wrong, but Japanese-Americans were and are loyal Americans. I call upon the American people to affirm with me this American Promise -- that we have learned from the tragedy of that long-ago experience forever to treasure liberty and justice for each individual American, and resolve that this kind of action shall never again be repeated."
The Reopening of Korematsu's Case
"On the same day that we decided the evacuation case we held that there was no authority to detain a citizen, absent evidence of a crime. Meanwhile, however, grave injustices had been committed. Fine American citizens had been robbed of their properties by racists." - Justice William Douglas
In 1981, Peter Irons, a lawyer found a crucial piece of evidence to the Korematsu case: a memo written to Solicitor General Fahy that read: "We are in possession of information that shows the War Department's report on the internment is a lie. And we have an ethical obligation not to tell a lie to the Supreme Court, and we must decide whether to correct that record."
In January 1983, Irons, partnered with other lawyers filed a coram nobis petition (Reference Glossary) at the San Francisco Federal District Court, which reopened Korematsu's case. Judge Patel granted the petition. This vacated Korematsu's federal conviction. At one point, he was offered a pardon, but he said "I don't want a pardon. If anything I should be pardoning the government."
"Korematsu remains on the pages of our legal and political history. As a legal precedent, it is now recognized as having very limited application. As historical precedent, it stands as a constant caution that in times of war or declared military necessity our institutions must be vigilant in protecting constitutional guarantees. It stands as a caution that in times of distress the shield of military necessity and national security must not be used to protect governmental actions from close scrutiny and accountability. It stands as a caution that in times of international hostility and antagonisms our institutions, legislative, executive and judicial, must be prepared to exercise their authority to protect all citizens from the petty fears and prejudices that are so easily aroused." - Judge Marilyn Patel
The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 delivered a formal apology letter and a $20,000 financial compensation to each survivor of the internment camps.