Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Of Civil Wrongs & Rights

Today, the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA) at my law school showed the PBS Documentary "Of Civil Wrongs & Rights: The Fred Korematsu Story." If there is any way that you can get a hold of the DVD, I highly recommend it. I am not a huge documentary person but this was put together very well and tells an amazing, but often unknown, story.

Coming off of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, it was great that we got to see the story of another great civil rights leader. To make a long story short, Fred Korematsu refused to allow the government put him in an internment camp with other Japanese-Americans during WWII. When he was convicted for defying the order, he challenged his conviction all the way up to the Supreme Court. In what my Constitutional Law Professor described as one of the worst outcomes in Supreme Court history, the Court ruled that national security concerns outweighed Korematsu's rights and the rights of Japanese-Americans, and his conviction was upheld. (sound familiar?)

I think what made him so amazing, and what I learned from this documentary, is what he did after he lost his Supreme Court case. He appealed in District Court 40 years later, won, and paved the way for a national apology and $20,000 to surviving internees. Up until his death in 2005, Korematsu remained active in civil rights, spoke out against parts of the Patriot Act, and was even on a steering committee of the Constitution Project, where I worked last summer.

Just an ordinary guy who just wanted to go to work, and who did not think it was right that he and other Japanese-Americans should be rounded up because they had "enemy blood."

As shameful as the majority decision was, this case has also brought one of my favorite dissents:
All residents of this nation are kin in some way by blood or culture to a foreign land. Yet they are primarily and necessarily a part of the new and distinct civilization of the United States. They must, accordingly, be treated at all times as the heirs of the American experiment, and as entitled to all the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. --Justice Marshall
And thus endeth the history lesson of today.

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