Korematsu v. U.S.

All legal restrictions which curtail the civil rights of a single racial group are immediately suspect. That is not to say that all such restrictions are unconstitutional. But courts must subject them to the most rigid scrutiny. Pressing public necessity may sometimes justify the existence of such restrictions but racial antagonism never can.

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.

Brief Fact Summary:

Legal restrictions that curtail the civil rights of a single racial group are subject to the most rigid scrutiny. But, pressing public necessity may sometimes justify such restrictions.

Case Commentary:

This decision is not one of the Court’s proudest moments and is widely recognized now as a mistake, driven by the panic after the Pearl Harbor attack. The U.S. government provided compensation to people affected by the deportation decades later. However, from a legal perspective, the decision did delineate the strict scrutiny standard of review that later played a role in combating discrimination.