President of the United States Franklin Roosevelt (President Roosevelt) issued an executive order authorizing military commanders to prescribe military areas from which any or all persons may be excluded. Thereupon, a military commander ordered all persons of Japanese descent, whether or not they were United States citizens, to leave their homes on the West Coast and to report to “Assembly Centers.” The Petitioner, a United States citizen of unchallenged loyalty, but of Japanese descent, was convicted under a federal law making it an offense to fail to comply with such military orders.
Did the President and Congress go beyond their war powers by implementing exclusion and restricting the rights of Americans of Japanese descent?
In an opinion written by Justice Black, the Court ruled that the evacuation order violated by Korematsu was valid. The majority found that the Executive Order did not show racial prejudice but rather responded to the strategic imperative of keeping the U.S. and particularly the West Coast (the region nearest Japan) secure from invasion. The Court relied heavily on a 1943 decision, Hirabayashi v. U.S., which addressed similar issues. Black argued that the validation of the military’s decision by Congress merited even more deference. Justice Frankfurter concurred, writing that the “martial necessity arising from the danger of espionage and sabotage” warranted the military’s evacuation order. Justice Jackson dissented, arguing that the exclusion order legitimized racism that violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Ironically, this case establishes the “strict scrutiny” standard of review, thereby leading to the invalidation of much race-based discrimination in the future.
Wayne M. Collins for the petitioner
Charles A. Horsky for the petitioner
Charles Fahy Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the respondent
San Leandro, CA
Fred Toyosaburo Korematsu
323 US 214 (1944)
Oct 11 – 12, 1944
Dec 18, 1944