Korematsu v. United States
323 U.S. 214 (1944)

  • During World War II, Congress enacted Civilian Restrictive Order No. 1 (8 Fed. Reg. 982), which gave the military authority to exclude citizens of Japanese ancestry from areas that were deemed critical to national defense and potentially vulnerable to espionage.
    • It didn’t require any evidence that there was a security risk. The law was based solely on race and national origin.
  • The military started moving Japanese-Americans off the West Coast into concentration camps.
    • Over 100,000 were moved.
  • Korematsu (who had been born in the US) refused to go. He was arrested and charged with violating the law.
  • The Trial Court convicted Korematsu. He appealed.
  • The Appellate Court upheld the conviction. Korematsu appealed.
  • The US Supreme Court upheld the conviction.
    • The US Supreme Court noted that laws that create race-based classification are automatically suspect, and will not be considered constitutional unless the government can show an extremely important reason for the law, and show that the goal cannot be achieved through any less discriminatory alternative.
      • That is known as the strict scrutiny standard.
    • In this case, the Court found that the law did meet the strict scrutiny standard, and so was constitutional.
      • “Korematsu was not excluded from the Military Area because of hostility to him or his race. He was excluded because we are at war with the Japanese Empire, because the properly constituted military authorities feared an invasion of our West Coast and felt constrained to take proper security measures, because they decided that the military urgency of the situation demanded that all citizens of Japanese ancestry be segregated from the West Coast temporarily, and, finally, because Congress, reposing its confidence in this time of war in our military leaders, as inevitably it must, determined that they should have the power to do just this.”
        • There was a lot of deference to Congress at the time, because a war was going on.
  • In a dissent it was argued that not one single case of espionage by a Japanese-American was known, and therefore there was no compelling reason for the blanket order to move 100,000 to camps.
    • In the dissent’s opinion, a much more narrow law targeting on those acting suspiciously would have sufficed. Therefore the blanket law should not meet strict scrutiny.
  • This case was the first to define the strict scrutiny standard. Although the Court found that the law met the standard and was therefore constitutional, they later used the standard to overturn a large number of racially discriminatory laws.
    • For example, see Loving v. Virginia (388 U.S. 1 (1967)).
  • Note that this case turned on the Due Process Clause of the 5th Amendment, not the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment because the 14th Amendment only applies to the States, and was not ‘reverse-incorporated’ to apply to the Federal government until ten years later in Bolling v. Sharpe (347 U.S. 497 (1954)).