Hawai’i to Set Jan. 30 as ‘Civil Liberties and the Constitution Day’

On Friday, June 7, Hawai’i Governor Neil Abercrombie will sign into law a bill establishing January 30, Fred Korematsu’s birthday, as “Civil Liberties and the Constitution Day” to celebrate, honor, and educate the public about various individuals’ commitment to preserving civil liberties.

You can read the full text of the bill here. Mahalo to the bill sponsors: State Senators Les Ihara, Jr., Russell Ruderman, and Malama Solomon!

In May 2012, Governor Abercrombie proclaimed January 30, 2013 as Fred Korematsu Day in the State of Hawai’i. The law to be signed on June 7 makes the state’s recognition of the day permanent, but does not establish a new state holiday.

On January 18, 2013, Utah Governor Gary Herbert proclaimed “Fred Korematsu Day” in Utah for January 30, 2013, which would have been Mr. Korematsu’s 94th birthday. The Beehive State became the third in the country to recognize Fred Korematsu Day, following California’s 2010 passage of a bill establishing a permanent “Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution,” celebrated every January 30, and Hawaii’s May 2012 gubernatorial proclamation. Hawai’i now joins California as the two states that permanently recognize a day in honor of Fred Korematsu.

Fred T. Korematsu was a national civil rights hero. In 1942, at the age of 23, he refused to go to the government’s incarceration camps for Japanese Americans. After he was arrested and convicted of defying the government’s order, he appealed his case all the way to the Supreme Court. In 1944, the Supreme Court ruled against him, arguing that the incarceration was justified due to military necessity.

In 1983, Prof. Peter Irons, a legal historian, together with 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 that included the Asian Law Caucus 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. It was a pivotal moment in civil rights history.

Korematsu remained an activist throughout his life. In 1998, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Bill Clinton.  Korematsu’s growing legacy continues to inspire people of all backgrounds and demonstrates the importance of speaking up to fight injustice.