9.27.2010

fred korematsu day bill signed into law

It's official! Last week, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the Fred Korematsu Day bill into law. This follows the bill's passage last month in the California legislature, and a series of unanimous votes on the Senate Floor, the Senate Education Committee, the Assembly Floor and the Assembly Education Committee: Calif. Governor Signs Fred Korematsu Day into Law.

The full name of the bill, AB 1775, is the Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution. Co-sponsored by Assemblymember Warren Furutani (D - South Los Angeles County) and Assemblymember Marty Block (D - San Diego), the bill encourages schools across the state to teach students about Fred Korematsu's story and its relevance today. Here's an excerpt from the press release:

During World War II, Korematsu was a 23-year-old welder in San Leandro, California who defied military orders that ultimately led to the evacuation and incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans, including Korematsu and his family. The Korematsu family was held first in the Tanforan Race Track Assembly Center in San Bruno, Calif., and then incarcerated in the Topaz incarceration camp in Utah.

He took his challenge to the military orders to the U.S. Supreme Court, which, in 1944, upheld his conviction on the ground that the forced removal of Japanese Americans was justified by "military necessity." That decision has been widely condemned as one of the darkest chapters in American legal history.

After four decades of having to live with a "disloyalty" conviction on his record that limited him from securing full-time work, Korematsu filed suit to reopen his case on proof that the government, when arguing his case during the war, had suppressed, altered, and destroyed material evidence that contradicted the government's claim of military necessity.

In 1983, the Federal District Court for the Northern District of California granted his petition for a writ of error coram nobis (a notice of error) and overturned his conviction.

"Fred Korematsu's eventual court victory taught America about the fragility of civil rights especially during times of international tensions," said attorney Dale Minami, a member of Korematsu's legal team and Steering Committee of the Korematsu Institute. "It reinforced our belief that civil rights must be fought for and are not simply guaranteed by the courts or by any governmental institution."

Korematsu went on to champion the cause of civil liberties, not only seeking redress for Japanese Americans who were wrongfully incarcerated, but also traveling the country to advocate for the civil rights of other victims of excessive government action, especially after 9/11. He passed away in 2005 at the age of 86.

"After my father's conviction was overturned in 1983, his focus and mission was education," said Karen Korematsu. "He believed it was important to teach about his struggle for justice and the Japanese American incarceration so that the mistakes of history would not be repeated in the future. The significance of this day will enable students of today and tomorrow to learn and discuss the lessons of American history relevant to the current discussions of the Constitution and our civil liberties."
This is an awesome victory for the memory of Fred Korematsu and the legacy his important, historic struggle. The first Fred Korematsu Day will be celebrated on January 30, 2011, on Fred Korematsu's birthday. The Korematsu Institute plans to roll out curriculum in K-12 schools that week and on all future Korematsu Days. For more information, go here.