justice department admits mistakes during japanese american internment cases

Nearly 70 years after the Supreme Court upheld the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the U.S. Department of Justice has finally admitted it made mistakes and acted dishonorably in defending the convictions of Gordon Hirabayashi and Fred Korematsu: Top Supreme Court lawyer says WWII-era predecessor hid key information on Japanese internment.

The "confession of error," posted by acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal on the Justice Department's website last week, is the first such admission of wrongdoing since the 1940s, when the Supreme Court ruled against Korematsu and Hirabayashi, who challenged the incarceration and related curfew orders that compromised the civil rights of Japanese Americans.

In his statement, Katyal cites evidence that the Solicitor General at the time, Charles Fahy, suppressed evidence in the Korematsu and Hirabayashi cases that clearly stated the minimal threat posed to the nation by Japanese Americans:
Fahy did not inform the justices of a key report from the Office of Naval Intelligence that “found that only a small percentage of Japanese-Americans posed a potential security threat, and that the most dangerous were already known or in custody,” Katyal wrote in the blog.

Fahy, who died in 1979, also neglected to tell the court that information that Japanese-Americans “were using radio transmitters to communicate with enemy submarines off the West Coast had been discredited by the FBI” and the Federal Communications Commission, Katyal wrote. “And to make matters worse, he relied on gross generalizations about Japanese-Americans, such as that they were disloyal and motivated by ‘racial solidarity.'”

Both convictions were overturned in the 1980s, Congress apologized for the treatment of Japanese-Americans and the government paid reparations to those who were interned and their heirs.
Katyal's statement is pretty momentous -- it may be the first time a Justice Department official has spoken this candidly about the mistakes of a predecessor, but more importantly, it is yet another vindication for the thousands of Japanese Americans who suffered from the government's betrayal of their civil rights.vAfter seven decades, it's a gesture long overdue.

Here's Katyal's statement on the Department of Justice blog: Confession of Error: The Solicitor General's Mistakes During the Japanese-American Internment Cases. And here's the press release with responses from the Korematsu and Hirabayashi families and their legal teams: Korematsu & Hirabayashi families, legal teams react to DOJ statement. And to learn more about the civil rights legacy of Fred Korematsu, go to the Korematsu Institute website here.

angry archive