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Fred Korematsu Winning Justice

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The following is part 2 of a guest post by Alexander Salopek, a collection development specialist in the Collection Services Division of the Law Library of Congress. He previously wrote posts on Marriage Equality in the U.S. and Miranda and the Rights of Suspects.  

This post is a continuation of Fred Korematsu’s Drive for Justice.

After Fred Korematsu lost his case, the war soon ended, and with it the internment camps. Fred slowly rebuilt his life, marrying Kathryn Pearson, and having two children, Karen and Ken. His family settled in San Lorenzo, California. Fred spoke rarely of his court case; both of his children found out about it at school before they had discussed it with their father (Bannai, 127). In 1969, Korematsu spoke about his experience to a class on Berkley’s campus. Ultimately, he did not enjoy that experience, possibly from remembering unpleasant moments from his life, and didn’t speak publicly about it again for 13 years (Bannai, 130).

It is important to state that during his case, Fred Korematsu did not receive support from the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) because they did not want to be seen as “hostile to the war effort” (Cole, 167). Later they advocated for internees to receive compensation for lost property, which Congress passed in 1948. By 1969, many Japanese Americans who were coerced to renounce their citizenship had it reinstated, following advocacy by the ACLU (Cole, 1968). By 1980, as a result of a bi-partisan vote, the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians was formed. The commission was charged with reviewing the effects of Executive Order 9066 and the remedies to these effects (Personal Justice Denied, 1). This was the culmination of activism from Japanese Americans fighting for justice.

Photo of an elderly Fred Korematsu wearing a black suit, red tie, and glasses. He smiles and wears a star-shaped medal around his neck on a blue ribbon.
Fred Korematsu, Feb. 26, 2015 [Photo by Flickr user VCU News Service. Used under CC 2.0 license.]
With all these actions taking place, something fascinating happened when Peter Irons, a professor, was researching government documents to write a book about the Japanese internments. He found evidence of the government having presented false information to the Supreme Court over the necessity of the internments (Yamamoto, 138). Essentially, the War Department issued a report in which it used a ship-to-shore communication to justify the mass internment of people of Japanese descent, and upon review by the FBI and FCC, these claims were found to have no evidence to back them up (Irons, 280-281). Thus, through the revision of a footnote that seemingly relied on said War Department report, the government lawyers didn’t make clear that they were aware there were other reports that disagreed with the War Department report (Bannai, 141-145). With this decision, the Court then ruled against Korematsu because the justices believed there was a military necessity.

When Fred Korematsu was presented with this information, he asked Peter Irons to be his lawyer, which ultimately lead to a coram nobis proceeding (Banni, 149). Coram nobis relief, “is available to correct errors in a complete miscarriage of justice and where there are exceptional circumstances” (Yamamoto et. Al., 275). This time Fred Korematsu was supported. When presented with the information and after testimony, the court vocally granted the verdict-the relief was granted, and Fred Korematsu’s conviction was vacated (Yamamoto et. al., 267). In 1988, the Civil Liberties Act (Public Law 100-383) was enacted. This law granted $20,000 in compensation for the actions the U.S. government took against people of Japanese ancestry during WWII. After his conviction was vacated, Fred Korematsu talked more openly about his case and his experiences. In 1998, Fred Korematsu was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor. In 2004, Korematsu filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court on Rasul v. Bush 542 U.S. 466 (2004), about the detainees in Guantánamo. In his brief, he reflected on his own experiences and implored the court to critically examine the claims of national security interest (Cole, 170).


KF228.K59 B36 2015 Bannai, Lorraine K. Enduring Conviction: Fred Korematsu and his quest for justice.

[Japanese American] Case Files.” National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives and Records Administration, 15 Aug. 2016. Accessed June 8, 2022.

D769.8.A6 A5 1946c United States. War Relocation Authority. Wartime exile: the exclusion of the Japanese Americans from the West coast, United States Department of the Interior, J. A. Krug, Secretary, War Relocation Authority, D. S. Myer, Director.

Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. “Personal Justice Denied.” June 1983. Accessed June 9, 2022.

KF384 .C65 2017  Cole, David. Engines of liberty: the power of citizen activists to make constitutional law.

KF7224.5 .C64 1985 Collins, Donald E. Native American aliens: disloyalty and the renunciation of citizenship by Japanese Americans during World War II. 

KF7224.5 .I76 1993 Irons, Peter. (1983) Justice at War: the story of the Japanese American internment cases.

KF7224.5 .Y36 2018 Yamamoto, Eric K. (2018). In the shadow of Korematsu: democratic liberties and national security.

KF7224.5 .R33 2013 Yamamoto, Eric K. Chon, Margaret, Izumi. Carol L., Kang, Jerry, and Wu, Frank, H. Race, rights, and reparation: law and the Japanese internment. Second edition.

Young Adult Resources

D769.8.A6 K67 1998 Alonso, Karen. Korematsu v. United States : Japanese-American internment camps.

KF228.K59 A87 2017 Atkins, Laura & Yogi, Stan. Fred Korematsu speaks up.

D769.8.A6 C4 1993 Chin. Steven A. When justice failed : the Fred Korematsu story.

KF228.K59 G65 2006 Gold, Susan Dudley. Korematsu v. United States : Japanese-American internment.

KF228.K59 K46 2013 Kenney, Karen Latchana. Korematsu v. the United States :  World War II Japanese-American internment camps.

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