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Japanese American Internment and Civil Liberties

image of Sign in Japanese American storefront (1942)

Click to Enlarge Japanese American Internment and Civil Liberties

[DATE POSTED: February 19, 2019]--On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing the relocation and internment of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans. The president justified his actions as a necessary national security measure "against espionage and against sabotage." This anniversary is preceded by another related observance on January 30, Fred Korematsu Day. Fred Korematsu was one of several Japanese Americans to legally challenge the internment order by suing the U.S. government for violating his civil rights.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 led to widespread paranoia, even hysteria, that Japanese Americans living on the West Coast might support Japan in its war efforts against the United States. This, combined with a long history of racism against Japanese, particularly on the West Coast, made the executive order and its aftermath possible. Even the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Korematsu in Korematsu v. United States (1944), citing the government's need to defend the nation.

As testament to the ongoing debate regarding the constitutionality of government actions, the Korematsu decision once again resurfaced in 2018 in the Trump v. Hawaii Supreme Court decision regarding the constitutionality of President Donald Trump banning travel to the United States by citizens of certain countries. In this decision, the Court rejected its 1944 ruling, with Justice John Roberts stating: "Korematsu was gravely wrong the day it was decided, has been overruled in the court of history, and—to be clear—'has no place in law under the Constitution.' [quoting Justice Robert Jackson's 1944 dissent]"

To enrich understanding of this history and the debate between national security and civil liberties, ABC-CLIO is publishing a new Primary Source Connection on Japanese American internment and constitutionality that explores the question: How did internment during World War II violate Japanese Americans' civil liberties?

Through engaging primary sources aligned with relevant reference content, this feature uses a driving question to engage students critically with foundational moments in American history. Use the Key Question and Using the Evidence to guide students through essential documents and iconic images and video, all accompanied by analysis worksheets that help students dig deeper. A timeline of pivotal events and essays on Japanese American internment, as well as on such key constitutional concepts as due process and civil liberties, provide additional context. An Instruction curated to these specific resources will help you bring this historical debate to life in the classroom or library.

Fatima Policarpo

Entry ID: 2192428

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