December 7, 1941 was a “date which will live in infamy” according to then President Franklin D. Roosevelt. History has proved him right. The surprise attack on the Naval Base at Pearl Harbor killed over 2,000 people and also destroyed valuable U.S. resources. The next day in front of a Joint Session of Congress, FDR gave his historical “Infamy” speech, and Congress promptly declared war on Japan. This attack completely removed support for the “isolationist” and “neutrality” movements, and not long after the other Axis Powers Italy and Germany had declared War on the United States. The U.S. declared war back and became engaged in what we know today as World War II. With in four months of the attack on Pearl Harbor, over 120,000 Japanese Americans had been detained by the Army and the FBI under Executive order 9066 and also legislation. Korematsu v. United States, Hirabayashi v. United States, Ex Parte Endo, and Yasui v. United States are four closely related Supreme Court Cases that dealt with the question of the legality of their detainment.
Gordon Hirabayashi’s case deals with a violated curfew and failure to show up to an assembly center after being ordered to. The curfew was set by General DeWitt who was at the time head of the Western Defense Command. Under his command the entire West Coast and large parts of California, Oregon, Washington, and Arizona were established as military zones. He then used his power over these military zones to set the curfews and to require people of Japanese Ancestry to report to Assembly Centers. After each side in Hirabayashi’s case had argued, the Supreme Court met to discuss the case. Justices Douglas, Rutledge, and Murphy were very reluctant to support the United States Government in this case, raising concerns of racism and violation of their Equal protection and due process rights.
Chief Justice Stone was able to convince all three to join him in supporting the government, but Justice Murphy chose to write a concurring opinion in which he complained that the case “goes to the very brink of constitutional power.” Murphy would go on to be an important figure in the other Korematsu cases. Strangely, Chief Justice Stone’s majority opinion can be quoted as saying “Distinctions between citizens solely because of their ancestry are by their very nature odious to a free people whose institutions are founded upon the doctrine of equality. For that reason, legislative classification or discrimination based on race alone has often been held to be a denial of equal protection.” This mention of racism was made in passing and did not effect the ruling in favor of the government.
The next case is Korematsu v. United States. Many arguments made in this case were and extension of Hirabayashi v. United States. Korematsu’s situation however did not deal with failure to show up at an assembly center or to meet curfew, but rather his refusal to move from the military zone. Chief Justice Stone sought to have a...