Brief Fact Summary. During World War II, a military commander ordered all persons of Japanese descent to evacuate the West Coast. The Petitioner, Korematsu (Petitioner), a United States citizen of Japanese descent, was convicted for failing to comply with the order.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Legal restrictions that curtail the civil rights of a single racial group are subject to the most rigid scrutiny. But, pressing public necessity may sometimes justify such restrictions.
President of the United States Franklin Roosevelt (President Roosevelt) issued an executive order authorizing military commanders to prescribe military areas from which any or all persons may be excluded. Thereupon, a military commander ordered all persons of Japanese descent, whether or not they were United States citizens, to leave their homes on the West Coast and to report to “Assembly Centers.” The Petitioner, a United States citizen of unchallenged loyalty, but of Japanese descent, was convicted under a federal law making it an offense to fail to comply with such military orders.
Issue. Was it within the power of Congress and the Executive to exclude persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast at the time that they were excluded?
Held. Yes. At the time the exclusion was ordered, it was justified.
Justice Hugo Black stated that although the exclusion order imposed hardships upon a large number of American citizens, hardships are part of war. When, under conditions of warfare, our shores are threatened by hostile forces, the power to protect them must be commensurate with the threatened danger.
Dissent. Points of Law - for Law School Success
What are the allowable limits of military discretion, and whether or not they have been overstepped in a particular case, are judicial questions. View Full Point of Law
Justice Frank Murphy (J. Murphy) argued that the exclusion at issue here goes over the brink of constitutional power and falls into the abyss of racism. Although we must extend great deference to the judgments of the military, it is essential that there be definite limits to military discretion. Moreover, the military order is not reasonably related to the dangers it seeks to prevent.
Justice Robert Jackson (J. Jackson) stated he would not distort the United States Constitution (Constitution) to approve everything the military may deem expedient. Discussion.
Ironically, this case establishes the “strict scrutiny” standard of review, thereby leading to the invalidation of much race-based discrimination in the future.