The courts vacated the 1944 Supreme Court conviction of Fred Korematsu for violating curfew orders imposed on Japanese Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Korematsu had challenged the constitutionality of the order, claiming that it violated his civil rights. The Supreme Court found that in instances of “military necessity,” civil rights of even U.S. citizens could be set aside in the interests of national security. When this decision was vacated in 1984, it left in place the principle of “military necessity” while ruling in favor of Korematsu because the Supreme Court had been misled by federal prosecutors about the lack of military threat posed by Japanese Americans.
Petition granted [vacate convictions] and countermotion denied [Supreme Court rulings of 1944 still stand].
Patel, District Judge
Fred Korematsu is a native born citizen of the United States. He is of Japanese ancestry. On September 8, 1942 he was convicted in this court of being in a place from which all persons of Japanese ancestry were excluded pursuant to Civilian Exclusion Order No. 34 issued by Commanding General J.L. DeWitt. His conviction was affirmed . . . .
It was uncontroverted at the time of conviction that petitioner was loyal to the United States and had no dual allegiance to Japan. He had never left the United States. He was registered for the draft and willing to bear arms for the United States . . . .
The question before the court is not so much whether the conviction should be vacated as what is the appropriate ground of relief . . . .
In this case, the government . . . is not prepared to confess error. Yet is has not submitted any opposition to the petition, although given ample opportunity to do so. Apparently the government would like this court to set aside the conviction without looking at the record in an effort to put this unfortunate episode in our country’s history behind us…
The Supreme Court has cautioned that coram nobis should be used “only under certain circumstances compelling such action to achieve justice” and to correct “errors of the most fundamental character.”… It is available to correct errors that result in a complete miscarriage of justice and where there are exceptional circumstances . . . .
Korematsu remains on the pages of our legal and political history . . . As historical precedent it stands as a constant caution that in times of war or declared military necessity our institutions must be vigilant in protecting constitutional guarantees. It stands as a caution that in times of distress the shield of military necessity and national security must not be used to protect governmental actions from close scrutiny and accountability. It stands at a caution that in times of international hostility and antagonisms our institutions, legislative, executive and judicial, must be prepared to exercise their authority to protect all citizens from the petty fears and prejudices that are so easily aroused.
In accordance with the foregoing, the petition for a writ of coram nobis is granted and the counter-motion of the respondent is denied.
IT IS SO ORDERED.