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.
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.
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.