Korematsu v. United States Case Brief

Facts of the case

In response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II, the U.S. government decided to require Japanese-Americans to move into relocation camps as a matter of national security. President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 in February 1942, two months after Pearl Harbor. A Japanese-American man living in San Leandro, Fred Korematsu, chose to stay at his residence rather than obey the order to relocate. Korematsu was arrested and convicted of violating the order. He responded by arguing that Executive Order 9066 violated the Fifth Amendment. The Ninth Circuit affirmed Korematsu’s conviction.

Why is the case important?

During World War II, a military commander ordered all persons of Japanese descent to evacuate the West Coast. The Petitioner, Korematsu (Petitioner), a United States citizen of Japanese descent, was convicted for failing to comply with the order.

Question

Was it within the power of Congress and the Executive to exclude persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast at the time that they were excluded?

ANSWER

Yes. At the time the exclusion was ordered, it was justified.
Justice Hugo Black stated that although the exclusion order imposed hardships upon a large number of American citizens, hardships are part of war. When, under conditions of warfare, our shores are threatened by hostile forces, the power to protect them must be commensurate with the threatened danger.

CONCLUSION

The Court found that the exclusion order, like a previously upheld curfew order, was intended to prevent espionage and sabotage in threatened areas during war. The exclusion from such an area was closely related to the intent of the order. Moreover, the Court could not reject the judgment of the military and Congress that there were disloyal members of the population who constituted a menace to the national defense and safety. Compulsory exclusion of groups of citizens from their homes, except under circumstances of direst emergency and peril, was inconsistent with the basic governmental institutions. However, because the order curtailed the rights of a group based on national origin, the order was inherently suspect and rigid scrutiny was applied. Nevertheless, the Court held that the exclusion order was justified by the exigencies of war and the threat to national security.

  • Advocates: Wayne M. Collins for the petitioner Charles A. Horsky for the petitioner Charles Fahy Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the respondent
  • Petitioner: Fred Toyosaburo Korematsu
  • Respondent: United States
  • DECIDED BY:Stone Court
  • Location: San Leandro, CA
Citation: 323 US 214 (1944)
Argued: Oct 11 – 12, 1944
Decided: Dec 18, 1944
Korematsu v. United States Case Brief