Korematsu v. United States

Manzanar Sign
Sign at the Manzanar Internment Camp. Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Ansel Adams, photographer

Korematsu v. United States was a Supreme Court case that was decided at the end of World War II concerning the legality of Executive Order 9066 which forced many Japanese-Americans to be placed in internment camps. 

Date of the Supreme Court Decision

December 18, 1944

Facts of Korematsu v. United States

In 1942, Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 allowing the US military to declare parts of the US as military areas and thereby exclude specific groups of people from them.

The practical application was that many Japanese-Americans were forced from their homes and placed in internment camps during World War II. Frank Korematsu, a US-born man of Japanese descent, knowingly defied the order to be relocated, was arrested, and convicted. His case went to the Supreme Court where it was decided that exclusion orders based on Executive Order 9066 were in fact constitutional. Therefore, his conviction was upheld.

Significance of Korematsu v. United States

The Korematsu decision was significant because it ruled that the United States government had the right to exclude and forcibly move people from designated areas based on their race. The decision was 6-3 that the need to protect the United States from espionage and other wartime acts was more important than Korematsu's individual rights. Even though Korematsu's conviction was eventually overturned in 1983, the Korematsu ruling concerning the creation of exclusion orders has never been overturned.

Interesting Fact

In 2004, at the age of 84, Frank Korematsu filed an amicus curiae, or friend of the court, brief in support of Guantanamo detainees who were fighting against being held as enemy combatants by the Bush Administration. He argued in his brief that the case was “reminiscent” of what had happened in the past where the government too quickly took away individual civil liberties in the name of national security.