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‘Civil Liberties and the Constitution Day’ Established in Hawai’i

Hawai’i Governor Neil Abercrombie (left) with Korematsu Institute Executive Director Karen Korematsu. Photo by Hawai’i of the Governor.

Hawai’i Governor Neil Abercrombie (left) with Korematsu Institute Executive Director Karen Korematsu. Photo by Hawai’i of the Governor.

Hawai’i Gov. Neil Abercrombie on June 7, 2013, signed a bill establishing January 30, Fred Korematsu‘s birthday as “Civil Liberties and the Constitution Day” in Hawai’i. Korematsu Institute executive director Karen Korematsu attended the bill signing.

“Civil Liberties and the Constitution Day will serve to recognize and remind us of the courage of those who remained committed to freedom, even when their own civil liberties and rights were being challenged,” said Gov. Abercrombie. “It is the actions of these individuals – these brave ‘resisters’ – that best reflect the ideals of the U.S. Constitution.”

While not a state holiday, the observance is intended to celebrate, honor and educate the public about these individuals’ commitment to preserving civil liberties.

“I applaud Governor Neil Abercrombie for signing this important measure into law,” said Senator Les Ihara, Jr., who was the primary introducer of the bill. “The establishment of Civil Liberties and the Constitution Day will ensure that the courage and actions of individuals who have fought for the constitutional and civil rights of all Americans will not be forgotten.”

The 2013 Hawai’i State Legislature passed the bill (Senate Bill 856, enacted as Act 94) without dissenting votes. The Fred T. Korematsu Institute for Civil Rights and Education joined the American Civil Liberties Union, Hawaii Council for the Humanities, Japanese American Citizens League, Japanese Chamber of Commerce, State Civil Rights Commission, and the University of Hawai’i in supporting the bill.

“Hawaii served as an important backdrop of key World War II sites, including Pearl Harbor, Operation Forager, as well as a host to five internment camps for Japanese Americans,” said Representative Mark Takai. “A starker time in our Nation’s history, it remains incumbent upon us to recognize the individuals before us, whose commitment to freedom, in times of hysteria, helped make us all stronger.”

From left to right: Senator Les Ihara, Jr., Chief Justice Mark E. Recktenwald, Governor Neil Abercrombie, Attorney General David M. Louie, Karen Korematsu, and Representative Mark Takai. Photo by Hawai’i Senate Majority.

From left to right: Senator Les Ihara, Jr., Chief Justice Mark E. Recktenwald, Governor Neil Abercrombie, Attorney General David M. Louie, Karen Korematsu, and Representative Mark Takai. Photo by Hawai’i Senate Majority.

The bill references actions of the United States government, including the internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942, authorizing the removal of any or all individuals from military areas as deemed necessary and desirable and mandating the forced internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry. Hawai’i and the entire West Coast of the United States would later be defined as a military area, resulting in the relocation of more than 110,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry to internment camps. One month later, on March 21, 1942, United States Congress passed Public Law 77-503, which established penalties for violations of Executive Order 9066.

The legislation also notes the efforts of several Americans of Japanese ancestry who challenged the validity and constitutionality of those wartime actions:

Fred Korematsu, a Japanese American, was living on the West Coast of the United States during World War II, when he was arrested and convicted of defying government orders to report to an internment camp. He appealed and lost his case at the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled his incarceration was warranted. Forty-one years later, on Nov. 10, 1983, U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel vacated Korematsu’s conviction, an action considered pivotal in civil rights history.

Gordon Hirabayashi, born in 1918 in Washington State to Japanese parents who had immigrated to the United States, was charged by a federal grand jury in Seattle with violation of Public Law 77-503. He appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court in the first challenge to Executive Order 9066 but lost his appeal when the Supreme Court unanimously ruled to uphold Hirabayashi’s conviction for violating the order. Forty-four years later, in September 1987, his conviction was vacated.

Min Yasui was born in 1916 in Oregon to Japanese parents and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Infantry Reserve. Although receiving orders to report to Fort Vancouver in Portland, Yasui was told that he was unacceptable for service and was immediately ordered off the base. Yasui was turned away eight more times after offering to fulfill his service to his country. On March 28, 1942, Yasui directly challenged the constitutionality of Executive Order 9066 and was arrested. Although his case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of Yasui for violating Executive Order 9066. Forty-two years later, in 1984, the courts vacated his conviction.

Mitsuye Endo, a native of Sacramento, was the only female resister of Executive Order 9066. Endo’s case reached the U.S. Supreme Court and was the only internment case in which the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of the plaintiff. Endo’s petition before the Supreme Court forced federal authorities to re-examine the constitutionality of Executive Order 9066 and ultimately resulted in a decision by the Supreme Court that officially re-opened the West Coast of the United States for resettlement by Americans of Japanese ancestry.

Sources: Office of the Governor, State of Hawai’i, Hawai’i Senate Majority