California State Assembly Passes Bill to Honor Fred Korematsu

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May 26, 2010
Fred Korematsu, third from left.  Photo Courtesy of Karen Korematsu
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On May 20, the California State Assembly voted unanimously to designate January 30 as Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution in California.  The legislation must be approved by the state senate and signed by the governor before taking effect. 

In 1942, police arrested twenty-three year old Fred Korematsu (pictured here third from left) for not complying with the military’s orders forcing all Japanese Americans to leave the west coast to be incarcerated in desolate camps like Manzanar in California's Owens Valley. Korematsu and his Italian American fiancée intended to leave California to marry. Korematsu was one of a handful of individuals who challenged the government's orders.  Represented by the ACLU of Northern California, he brought a lawsuit against the forced exclusion of Japanese Americans. 

In 1944, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against him, accepting the government's argument that there was a "military necessity" for the mass removal of Japanese Americans.

Nearly forty years later, attorney and political science professor Peter Irons was researching the Korematsu case in the National Archives and discovered documentation that during World War II government attorneys in their arguments to the Supreme Court had deliberately omitted relevant evidence favorable to Japanese Americans and provided misleading information. Based on this evidence of government misconduct, Korematsu petitoned for his criminal convication to be reversed.  He was vindicated in 1983 when a federal judge overturned his conviction.

In 1998, President Bill Clinton awarded Korematsu the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Fred Koremastu died in 2005 at the age of 86.

(Photo Courtesy of Karen Korematsu)