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"December 31, 2014
The Honorable President Barack H. ObamaThe White House1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NWWashington, DC 20500
Re: Presidential Medal of Freedom—Nomination of Minoru Yasui
Dear Mr. President:
On behalf of the Colorado Bar Association, I am proud and honored to support the nomination of Minoru Yasui for a 2015 Presidential Medal of Freedom. Yasui, an American citizen of Japanese descent and a lawyer licensed to practice in Colorado, has been recognized for his outstanding contributions to the legal profession and to the administration of justice, as well as for his outstanding service to the community.
Minoru Yasui was born on October 19, 1916 in Hood River, Oregon. He attended school in Hood River and in 1933 graduated from high school as valedictorian of his class. He graduated from the University of Oregon in 1937 with Phi Beta Kappa honors, and in 1939, he received his law degree from the University of Oregon School of Law.
Immediately following the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japan on December 7, 1941, Yasui volunteered for the U.S. Army. He had been commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army Reserves after graduation from the University of Oregon, where he had been an ROTC cadet. He received orders to report to Fort Vancouver, Washington, but upon reporting, he was told that his services would not be accepted because of his ancestry.
On March 28, 1942, Yasui deliberately violated a curfew imposed against American citizens of Japanese descent. He was arrested and, after being released on bail, went on trial on June 12, 1942 in U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. On November 15, 1942, Judge James Alger Fee found that the curfew was unconstitutional as it applied to American citizens. However, Judge Fee went on to find that Yasui was not a U.S. citizen because his actions—particularly his work for the Japanese Consulate in Chicago—effectively resulted in a renunciation of his citizenship. As an "alien" of Japanese ancestry, he was found guilty of disobeying a lawful regulation governing enemy aliens. He was returned to court the next day and received the maximum fine of $5,000 and the maximum sentence of one year in jail.
Before his sentence was imposed, Yasui addressed the court. [See Dodds, Varieties of Hope—An Anthology of Oregon Prose 117-18 (1993).]
Your Honor—if the Court please, I should like to say a few words. There is no intent to plead for leniency for myself or to request a mitigation of the punishment that is about to be inflicted upon me.
Despite the circumstances, I am compelled to pay tribute and give my unreserved respect to this honorable court for its clear-cut and courageous reaffirmation of the inviolability of the fundamental civil rights and liberties of an American citizen.
As an American citizen, it was for a clarification and the preservation of those rights that I undertook this case, confident that the American judiciary would zealously defend those rights, war or no war, in order to preserve the fundamental democratic doctrines of our nation and to perpetuate the eternal truths of America.
My confidence has been justified and I feel the greatest satisfaction and patriotic uplift in the decision of this honorable court, for it is full of significance for every American, be he humble or mighty.
I say that I am glad, regardless of the personal consequences to me, because I believe in the future and in the ultimate destiny of America. Ever since I was a child, I have been inculcated in the basic concepts and the traditions of those great patriots who founded our nation.
I have lived, believed, worked and aspired as an American. With due respect to this honorable court, in all good conscience, I can say that I have never, and will never, voluntarily relinquish my American citizenship.
The decision of this honorable court to the contrary notwithstanding, I am confident that I can establish in law and in fact that I am an American citizen, who is not only proud of that fact, but who is willing to defend that right.
When I attained majority, I swore allegiance to the United States of America, renouncing any and all other allegiances that I may have unknowingly owed. That solemn obligation to my native land has motivated me during the past 12 months upon three separate and distinct occasions to volunteer for active service in the United States army, wheresoever it may be fighting to preserve the American way of life.
For I would a thousand times prefer to die on a battlefront as an American soldier in defense of freedom and democracy, for the principles which I believe, rather than to live in relative comfort as an interned alien Jap.
The treacherous attack on Pearl Harbor, the bombing of Manila, the aggressor policies of the war lords of Japan are just as reprehensible to me as to any American citizen.
If America were invaded today, I and 70,000 other loyal American citizens of Japanese ancestry would be willing, eager, to lay down our lives in the streets, down in the gutters, to defend our homes, our country, and our liberties!
Be that as it may; I reiterate, regardless of the personal consequences, even though it entail the sacrifice of my American citizenship which I regard as sacred and more dear than life itself, I pay homage and salute this honorable court and my country, the United States of America, for the gallant stand that has been taken for the preservation of the fundamental principles of democracy and freedom!
Yasui served one year in jail, mostly in solitary confinement. Upon his release, he was taken to Minidoka Relocation Camp, and in 1944, he was released to work in Chicago. In September 1944, he moved to Denver, Colorado. In 1945, he passed the Colorado bar exam with one of the highest scores that year. He was denied admission to the bar because of his criminal conviction, but on appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court, he was admitted to practice in January 1946.
Yasui’s conviction in the curfew case eventually worked its way to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and then to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the Court reversed the original findings of Judge Fee and found that Yasui had not lost his U.S. citizenship. However, the Court found the curfew rule to be constitutional and therefore upheld his conviction. Yasui continued to appeal his conviction through the Ninth Circuit. While the case was pending, he passed away, and his dream of complete vindication ended.
Minoru Yasui’s history of commitment to civil and human rights is too long to list here, but a sample of it can be found in an award bearing his name. Every year, the Colorado Asian Pacific American Bar Association and the Colorado Asian Pacific American Bar Foundation present the Anheuser-Busch Minoru Yasui Memorial Award and Scholarship at their banquet. This is one of many scholarships awarded in Minoru Yasui’s honor. Other scholarships include the Japanese American Citizens League Minoru Yasui Memorial Scholarship, the Asian American Journalist Association Minoru Yasui Memorial Scholarship Award, and the Denver Foundation Minoru Yasui Volunteer Award.
Minoru Yasui’s commitment was not limited to the Japanese American community. He was the founder of the Urban League of Denver, the Latin American Research and Services Agency, and the Denver Native Americans United. He also served as the executive director of the Denver Commission on Community Relations; in that capacity, he continued to focus on issues affecting Denver’s African American, Hispanic, and Asian American communities. On March 1, 1999, the City and County of Denver honored him and his lifetime accomplishments by naming a building at 303 West Colfax the Minoru Yasui Plaza.
In honor of his extraordinary commitment to civil and human rights, his dedication to principle, and his unwavering devotion to the dignity of man, I respectfully recommend Mr. Minoru Yasui as a candidate for a 2015 Presidential Medal of Freedom. Thank you for your kind consideration.
Charles F. GarciaPresidentColorado Bar Association" - Colorado Lawyer, March 2015.