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Law School Case Brief

Korematsu v. United States - 323 U.S. 214, 65 S. Ct. 193 (1944)


All legal restrictions that curtail the civil rights of a single racial group are immediately suspect. That is not to say that all such restrictions are unconstitutional. It is to say that courts must subject them to the most rigid scrutiny. Pressing public necessity may sometimes justify the existence of such restrictions; racial antagonism never can.


The petitioner Korematsu, an American citizen of Japanese descent, was convicted in a federal district court for remaining in San Leandro, California, a "Military Area," contrary to Civilian Exclusion Order No. 34, which directed that after May 9, 1942, all persons of Japanese ancestry should be excluded from that area. No question was raised as to petitioner's loyalty to the United States. Petitioner challenged the assumptions underlying the order and claimed that when the exclusion order was enacted, all danger of Japanese invasion of the exclusion area had disappeared. 


Is the exclusion order under which petitioner Korematsu was convicted valid?




The U.S. Supreme Court held that the exclusion order under which petitioner was convicted was valid and, thus, upheld the conviction. Because the order curtailed the rights of a group based on national origin, the order was inherently suspect and rigid scrutiny was applied. The Court found that the exclusion order, like a previously upheld curfew order, was intended to prevent espionage and sabotage in threatened areas during war. The exclusion from such an area was closely related to the intent of the order. Moreover, the Court could not reject the judgment of the military and Congress that there were disloyal members of the population who constituted a menace to the national defense and safety. Compulsory exclusion of groups of citizens from their homes, except under circumstances of direst emergency and peril, was inconsistent with the basic governmental institutions. However, the Court held that the exclusion order was justified by the exigencies of war and the threat to national security.

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