Hirabayashi v. United States

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Hirabayashi v. United States
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued May 10–11, 1943
Decided June 21, 1943
Full case nameGordon Kiyoshi Hirabayashi v. United States
Citations320 U.S. 81 ( more )
63 S. Ct. 1375; 87 L. Ed. 1774; 1943 U.S. LEXIS 1109
Case history
PriorUnited States v. Hirabayashi, 46 F. Supp. 657 (W.D. Wash. 1942); certificate from the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
SubsequentPetition for writ of error coram nobis granted, 627 F. Supp. 1445 (W.D. Wash. 1986); affirmed in part, reversed in part, 828 F.2d 591 (9th Cir. 1987).
The Court held that the application of curfews against members of a minority group was constitutional when the nation was at war with the country from which that group originated.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Harlan F. Stone
Associate Justices
Owen Roberts  · Hugo Black
Stanley F. Reed  · Felix Frankfurter
William O. Douglas  · Frank Murphy
Robert H. Jackson  · Wiley B. Rutledge
Case opinions
MajorityStone, joined by Roberts, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Jackson
Laws applied
United States Executive Order 9066; U.S. Const.

Hirabayashi v. United States, 320 U.S. 81 (1943), was a case in which the United States Supreme Court held that the application of curfews against members of a minority group were constitutional when the nation was at war with the country from which that group's ancestors originated. [1] The case arose out of the issuance of Executive Order 9066 following the attack on Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entry into World War II. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had authorized military commanders to secure areas from which "any or all persons may be excluded", and Japanese Americans living in the West Coast were subject to a curfew and other restrictions before being removed to internment camps. The plaintiff, Gordon Hirabayashi, was convicted of violating the curfew and had appealed to the Supreme Court. Yasui v. United States was a companion case decided the same day. [2] Both convictions were overturned in coram nobis proceedings in the 1980s. [3]



After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, American public opinion initially stood by the large population of Japanese Americans living on the West Coast or at least did not openly question their loyalty to the United States. [4] Six weeks later, however, public opinion had turned against Japanese Americans, as the press and other Americans became nervous about the potential for fifth column activity. Though the administration (including President Roosevelt and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover) dismissed rumors of Japanese American espionage on behalf of the Japanese war effort, pressure mounted upon the Administration, as the tide of public opinion turned against Japanese Americans.

On February 19, 1942, Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, authorizing Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt, as head of the Western Defense Command, to exclude certain persons from "military areas," regardless of their ancestry or country of citizenship. Over the course of several weeks, DeWitt issued several public proclamations that first imposed a curfew upon Japanese American citizens and resident "aliens" of Japanese descent. (The Issei, or first-generation immigrants, were prohibited from naturalized citizenship as members of an "unassimilable" race.) Later orders confined Japanese Americans to Military Area No. 1, which included Seattle, where Hirabayashi lived. On May 3, 1942, DeWitt issued an order requiring Japanese Americans in the Seattle area to report to assigned assembly points for "evacuation" to isolated inland camps. (At the time, the terms "relocation centers," "internment camps," and "concentration camps" were used interchangeably.)


The defendant, Gordon Hirabayashi, was a University of Washington student who was accused of violating the curfew and exclusion order, designated a misdemeanor by Public Law 503, a congressional statute introduced to enforce Executive Order 9066 and any subsequent military orders. [5] Hirabayashi turned himself in for disobeying the curfew at the FBI's Seattle office on May 16, 1942 and announced that he planned to disobey the impending removal order. [6]

After his arrest, he was approached by an acquaintance, liberal Washington State Senator Mary Farquharson, who suggested that he make his case a test case. She organized a support committee for Hirabayashi and served as its secretary-treasurer as the committee raised funds for his legal defense. (This support was important in advancing the case, as the ACLU refused to support Hirabayashi.) [7]

He was held in King County Jail for five months, until his trial on October 20. The jury deliberated for just ten minutes before it returned two guilty verdicts, one for the curfew violation and another for the exclusion order, and Hirabayashi was sentenced to consecutive 30-day jail terms. (After requesting to serve his time in an outdoor labor camp rather than prison, Judge Lloyd Black handed down two 90-day sentences, to be served concurrently at the Catalina Federal Honor Camp, outside Tucson, Arizona.) [6]

Hirabayashi's lawyers appealed the conviction, and after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco declined to rule on the case, it eventually landed in the Supreme Court.

The Justice Department expected a legal challenge to all of the three substantive elements of Roosevelt's and DeWitt's directives to Japanese Americans: curfew, exclusion, and internment. [4] The administration, particularly the Department of Justice and Francis Biddle, sought out test cases that it could use to establish favorable precedent and prepared itself for a case that could challenge the entire internment policy.

The Supreme Court heard both the Hirabayashi case and Yasui v. United States [2] during the 1942–43 term. It released the opinions as companion cases on June 21, 1943 and upheld the curfew order in both cases. (Although Hirabayashi had been convicted of two violations, the two sentences had been served concurrently and so the Justices chose to consider only the curfew, not the more controversial exclusion of Japanese American citizens.) [6] Minoru Yasui was "released" to the Minidoka concentration camp on time served, and Hirabayashi, who had been living in Spokane, Washington since he had finished his sentence at Catalina, briefly remained free before he was sent to the McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary when he refused to comply with a draft order. [8]

Later developments

This case has been largely overshadowed by Korematsu v. United States , [9] decided the following term, in which the Court directly addressed the constitutionality of the removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast. But, though the Korematsu case (challenging the exclusion portion of Executive Order 9066) overshadowed the Hirabayashi case (challenging only the curfew portion of the order), the Court's opinion in Korematsu cited its Hirabayashi ruling, upholding the restrictions placed on Japanese Americans. [9]

The Hirabayashi case is notable also in that the three dissenters in Korematsu, Justices Roberts, Jackson, and Murphy had either been persuaded by fellow justices to vote with the majority or, in the case of Murphy, to concur. An article by historian Sidney Fine published in Pacific Historical Review in May 1964, "Mr. Justice Murphy and the Hirabayashi Case", pp. 195–209, shows how that Justice's initial draft opinion was a vigorous dissent, but that he eventually yielded to the arguments of his fellow Justices and issued a concurrence – which, in Fine's view, "bore a striking resemblance to the dissenting opinion he had intended to issue." In the Korematsu decision, Murphy's dissent was vehement, calling the majority opinion "legalization of racism."

In 1986 and 1987, Hirabayashi's convictions on both charges were overturned by the U.S. District Court in Seattle and the Federal Appeals Court, because evidence arose that the Solicitor General's office (led by Charles H. Fahy) had cited examples of Japanese American sabotage in its 1943–44 Supreme Court arguments, despite having researched and debunked all the rumored incidents. In 2011, the Acting Solicitor General officially confessed error in that regard. [10] The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued the final decision as Hirabayashi v. United States in 1987. [11]

In May 2012, President Obama posthumously awarded Gordon Hirabayashi the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor.

Eleven lawyers who had represented Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayashi, and Minoru Yasui in successful efforts in lower federal courts to nullify their convictions for violating military curfew and exclusion orders sent a letter, dated January 13, 2014, [12] to Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. In light of the appeal proceedings before the U.S. Supreme in Hedges v. Obama , the lawyers asked Verrili to request the Supreme Court to overrule its 1943 decisions in Korematsu , Hirabayashi and Yasui . If the Solicitor General shouldn't do this, they asked that the United States government "make clear" that the federal government "does not consider the internment decisions as valid precedent for governmental or military detention of individuals or groups without due process of law [...]." [13]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Executive Order 9066</span> 1942 U.S. presidential executive order which authorized internment of Japanese-Americans

Executive Order 9066 was a United States presidential executive order signed and issued during World War II by United States president Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 19, 1942. This order authorized the secretary of war to prescribe certain areas as military zones, clearing the way for the incarceration of nearly all 120,000 Japanese Americans during the war. Two-thirds of them were U.S. citizens, born and raised in the United States.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Internment of Japanese Americans</span> World War II mass incarceration in the United States

During World War II, the United States forcibly relocated and incarcerated at least 125,284 people of Japanese descent in 75 identified incarceration sites. Most lived on the Pacific Coast, in concentration camps in the western interior of the country. Approximately two-thirds of the inmates were United States citizens. These actions were initiated by president Franklin D. Roosevelt via an executive order shortly after Imperial Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.

Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944), was a landmark decision by the Supreme Court of the United States to uphold the exclusion of Japanese Americans from the West Coast Military Area during World War II. The decision has been widely criticized, with some scholars describing it as "an odious and discredited artifact of popular bigotry", and as "a stain on American jurisprudence". The case is often cited as one of the worst Supreme Court decisions of all time. Chief Justice John Roberts explicitly repudiated the Korematsu decision in his majority opinion in the 2018 case of Trump v. Hawaii.

Ex parte Mitsuye Endo, 323 U.S. 283 (1944), was a United States Supreme Court ex parte decision handed down on December 18, 1944, in which the Justices unanimously ruled that the U.S. government could not continue to detain a citizen who was "concededly loyal" to the United States. Although the Court did not touch on the constitutionality of the exclusion of people of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast, which it had found not to violate citizen rights in its Korematsu v. United States decision on the same date, the Endo ruling nonetheless led to the reopening of the West Coast to Japanese Americans after their incarceration in camps across the U.S. interior during World War II.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fred Korematsu</span> Japanese-American civil rights activist (1919–2005)

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gordon Hirabayashi</span> American sociologist (1918–2012)

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Yasui v. United States, 320 U.S. 115 (1943), was a United States Supreme Court case regarding the constitutionality of curfews used during World War II when they were applied to citizens of the United States. The case arose out of the implementation of Executive Order 9066 by the U.S. military to create zones of exclusion along the West Coast of the United States, where Japanese Americans were subjected to curfews and eventual removal to relocation centers. This Presidential order followed the attack on Pearl Harbor that brought America into World War II and inflamed the existing anti-Japanese sentiment in the country.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Charles Fahy</span> American judge (1892–1979)

Charles Fahy was an American lawyer and judge who served as the 26th Solicitor General of the United States and later served as a United States circuit judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

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Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga was a Japanese American political activist who played a major role in the Japanese American redress movement. She was the lead researcher of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC), a bipartisan federal committee appointed by Congress in 1980 to review the causes and effects of the Japanese American incarceration during World War II. As a young woman, Herzig-Yoshinaga was confined in the Manzanar War Relocation Center in California, Jerome War Relocation Center in Arkansas, and Rohwer War Relocation Center also in Arkansas. She later uncovered government documents that debunked the wartime administration's claims of "military necessity" and helped compile the CWRIC's final report, Personal Justice Denied, which led to the issuance of a formal apology and reparations for former camp inmates. She also contributed pivotal evidence and testimony to the Hirabayashi, Korematsu and Yasui coram nobis cases.

<i>Hirabayashi v. United States</i> (1987)

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  1. Hirabayashi v. United States, 320 U.S. 81 (1943).
  2. 1 2 Yasui v. United States , 320 U.S. 115 (1943).
  3. Hirabayashi v. United States, 627 F. Supp. 1445 (W.D. Wash. 1986); affirmed in part, reversed in part, 828 F.2d 591 (9th Cir. 1987).
  4. 1 2 Irons, Peter. (1993). Justice At War: The Story of the Japanese American Internment Cases. University of Washington Press. ISBN   9780520083127.
  5. Niiya, Brian. "Public Law 503". Densho Encyclopedia. Retrieved 26 September 2014.
  6. 1 2 3 Niiya, Brian. "Hirabayashi v. United States". Densho Encyclopedia. Retrieved 26 September 2014.
  7. Niiya, Brian (15 July 2020). "Mary Farquharson". Densho Encyclopedia . Densho. Retrieved 19 March 2022.
  8. Lyon, Cherstin M. "Gordon Hirabayashi". Densho Encyclopedia. Retrieved 26 September 2014.
  9. 1 2 Korematsu v. United States , 323 U.S. 214 (1944).
  10. Savage, David G. (24 May 2011), "U.S. Official Cites Misconduct in Japanese American Internment Cases", The Los Angeles Times
  11. Hirabayashi v. United States, 828F.2d591 (9th Cir.1987).
  12. Dale Minami; Lorraine Bannai; Donald Tomaki; Peter Irons; Eric Yamamoto; Leigh Ann Miyasato; Pegy Nagae; Rod Kawakami; Karen Kai; Kathryn A. Bannai; Robert Rusky (13 January 2014). "Re: Hedges v. Obama Supreme Court of the United States Docket No. 17- 758" (PDF). SCOUSblog. Retrieved 29 April 2014.
  13. Denniston, Lyle (16 January 2014). "A plea to cast aside Korematsu". SCOTUSblog. Retrieved 29 April 2014.