Sixteen Americans, sixteen strangers, sixteen different issues, sixteen different cases; spanning from 1940 to 1986 and ranging from issues of race, religion, protest and privacy are all brought together in The Courage of Their Convictions. Each case is divided into two parts; the first discusses the more technical facet of the case, familiarizing us with the facts, the processes, and the results. On the other hand the second part gives us the story through the plaintiff themselves, offering us a thorough and in depth look into the issues which can never be attained from just reading documents and decisions.
Not all of the plaintiffs won their cases, however each of them fought for their rights as an American citizen and left their footprints in our judicial history. While reading these cases we learn that Justice is blind per its convenience. The Supreme Court IS affected by politics, the views of society of the time, and personal feelings. There is never a hundred percent impartiality; all of the decisions are influenced to an extent. It reminds you that the Justices sitting on the Supreme Court are people too well, which means that they also have personal opinions, which affect the decisions they make.
All of these plaintiffs however, were strong enough to stand up against the intolerances of society and fight courageously for their convictions. Four out of these sixteen cases deal with racism, an evil in society that we have fought for a long time, and are still fighting today. Each one of these cases shows the advancements our country was able to make dealing with racial issues. Gordon Hirabayashi, J. D. Shelley, Daisy Bates and Mark Mack Bell fought for equality in a society where color of skin and country of origin had an affect on your standing in society.
The attack on Pearl Harbor led to the wartime internment of over 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry. These American citizens were uprooted from their homes and forced into concentration camps. Gordon Hirabayashi, an American born Japanese man, who was studying at the University of Washington, decided to defy the military orders which required him to register for evacuation. Five days later he was arrested, and in response he handed the Agent a document, which reflected his reasons of objection.
The paper discussed how these military orders of relocation denied the Japanese citizens of their basic right to live. When the Agent said he risked imprisonment for a year and Gordon did not lose his stance, the U. S. attorney proceeded to file criminal charges against him for violating the evacuation order. After a search of his room, the officials came across Gordon's diary where he made reference to breaking curfew, upon reading this the U. S. attorney then added the charge for violating curfew. We are able to see how this case is biased from the beginning.
The first Judge to hear the case, Judge Black, dismissed Gordon's lawyers most important charge, that the constitution bars any form of racial discrimination on the grounds that it is a "technical interpretation" of the 5th amendment which did not hold water because the rights of an individual "should not be permitted to endanger all of the constitutional rights of the entire citizenry". The direction of the decision was also set forth when Allen Pomeroy asked the jurors to convict Gordon and by warning them that "if we don't win this war with Japan there will be no trial by jury. " This was followed by Judge Black by saying "you are instructed to return with a verdict of guilty" and of course the jury obliged. Gordon was not disheartened by the verdict and went ahead to the U. S. Court of Appeals.
After five weeks of deliberation the case was sent to the Supreme Court undecided. The court voted to sustain the charges against Gordon with only one dissenter, Justice Murphy. Gordon waited until 1985 to have a hearing for his petition where his charge for violation of the evacuation order was dropped, but the chare for violation of the curfew was kept. Gordon again appealed and in 1987 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dropped the latter charge as well.
This case is an eye opener for anyone who has immigrant parents. It's upsetting to see the rights of a citizen taken away upon the basis of "association". The attack on Pearl Harbor was not a direct result of the actions of these Japanese-American citizens, yet they were punished for it as if it were. This comes at a time where even now we are faced with racism of this kind, but this time against Arab-Americans, who are harassed in response to the attacks of September 11th 2001. Though I liked this case for the issue it covered, I don't think I liked the way the outcome came about. Though justice was served, it took 43 years to get it. The second case that deals with racism is that of J. D. Shelley vs. Louis Kraemer. J. D.
Shelley received a summons to appear in court by Louis Kraemer, he claimed that they had unlawfully purchased property in an area which was "covered" by a restrictive racial covenant which had been made earlier by thirty of the thirty-nine property owners on that block. Kraemer's wife was the granddaughter of one of those thirty signers. The lawyer of the Shelley's, Mr. George Vaughn fought hard against the covenant on constitutional and social grounds, and he also pointed out that there had already been five black families which had occupied property on the block, and that since only thirty out of the thirty-nine property owners had signed, that it was not valid. The first Judge responded by deciding not to enforce the covenant upon the Shelley's. However, the Missouri Supreme court then reversed the decision, the case then moved to the Supreme Court.
The six Supreme Court justices who did hear the case struck down the racial covenants and at the same time struck down segregations and equality. I found this case very interesting. It is thought provoking, because I realized how angry I'd feel if someone would try and kick me out of MY house because I wasn't allowed to own it The strength of Mr. Shelley is to be admired because though he didn't think anything when he bought his property, when faced with summons he decided to fight instead of back down, like many others, because he knew that what he was doing was important. The third case is of Daisy Bates vs. Little Rock, where as head of the Arkansas NAACP she fought for integration of the public schools and refused to give out the membership lists of the NAACP. Daisy Bates fought hard against Bennett, the state's attorney general who time and time again used different measures to shut the NAACP down.
One attempt to do this was Daisy Bates arrest for challenge of the Bennett Ordinance. At the trial the presiding judge, Judge Robinson held the Ordinance valid and found Daisy guilty with a $100 fine. At the next trial in front of the County Circuit Court Judge Kirby who also convicted Daisy Bates, and it was obvious he had his mind set throughout the trial. Carter, Daisy's lawyer knew this and called certain witnesses such as Franklin Loy because he was already building for a record of appeal. Unfortunately the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld the conviction, taking a stance against the precedent set by an Alabama case.
The case had to wait a year to go to the Supreme Court, and in the mean time there was pure chaos in Arkansas, schools were closed for a year, Daisy's home was bombed and her newspaper had to be shut down because of a boycott for advertising. The Supreme Court Ruling was unanimous and it overruled the convictions on Daisy Bates. Justice Stewart used the same case of NAACP vs. Alabama that was ignored in the previous court's decision to right his opinion that stated that the Ordinance was a violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth amendment.