About Fred T. Korematsu
Fred T. Korematsu was an American citizen who took an extraordinary stand. In 1942, at the age of 23, he refused to follow the government’s orders to permanently leave his home along with over 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry up and down the west coast of the U.S. to go to WWII incarceration camps. He was arrested, formally charged and convicted of defying the government’s orders. After his first court hearing in San Francisco, he was sent to the Presidio Army Base of San Francisco before being transferred to Tanforan Detention Facility. His case was appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1944, the Supreme Court ruled against him in Korematsu v. United States, arguing that the incarceration was justified due to military necessity.
In 1983, Prof. Peter Irons, a legal historian, together wit
h researcher Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga, discovered key documents that government intelligence agencies had hidden from the Supreme Court in 1944. The documents consistently showed that Japanese Americans had committed no acts of treason to justify mass incarceration. With this new evidence, a pro-bono legal team re-opened Korematsu’s 40-year-old case on the basis of government misconduct. On November 10, 1983, Korematsu’s conviction was overturned in a federal court in San
Francisco, making it a pivotal moment in civil rights history.
CAUTION: Korematsu v. United States remains on the U.S. Supreme Court record. It still stands as “good law” even though it has been discredited. Elected officials are able to sight this in times of war or national stress.
In January 1998, Korematsu received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. After 9/11, he continued to speak out, filing a number of legal briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of American Muslim inmates being held in U.C. military prisons. Korematsu remained an activist until he passed away at the age of 86 in 2005.
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