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Korematsu v.

United States
(Convicted

Japanese-American)

v.

{Government)

323 U.S. 214, 65 S.Ct. 193 (1944)

SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS A RACIAL CLASSIFICATION SUBJECTED TO STRICT SCRUTINY

INSTANT FACTS A Japanese-American appealed his conviction for failing to comply with a
federal military order excluding Japanese-Americans from certain parts in the western-half of the
United States.
BLACK LETTER RULE Military necessity and
national security may justify placing legal restrictions on a single racial group.

PROCEDURAL BASIS
Not Provided.
FACTS
In May of 1942, the U.S. Army issued an order which excluded all persons of Japanese ancestry from
the West Coast. The order was issued pursuant to Congressional authority granted to the Executive
Branch to decide who should and should not remain in threatened areas. The exclusion was deemed
necessary to handle the presence of an unascertained number of disloyal Japanese-Americans.
Korematsu (D) was convicted of failing to comply with the order by remaining in San Leandro,
California.
ISSUE
May a racial classification survive strict scrutiny on the basis of military need or national security?
DECISION AND RATIONALE
(Black, J.) Yes. Military necessity and national security may justify placing legal restrictions on a single
racial group. The fact that the military authorities have concluded that it is impossible to segregate
disloyal Japanese-Americans from those who are loyal justifies the exclusion. Furthermore, there was
some evidence that there in fact existed within the United States disloyal Japanese. While the hardships
endured by those made subject to the order are severe, we must keep in mind that hardships are a part
of war, and are endured to differing degrees by different citizens. Korematsu (D) was excluded from his
home not because of animosity toward his race but because we are at war with Japan, and the military
authorities decided that the order was necessary to secure our borders.
DISSENT
(Murphy, J.) While military necessity may justify a racial classification, such a need must be supported
by evidence. Just as any act of Congress or Executive Order, a military order drawn on racial lines must
be subjected to the proper judicial inquiry. The test is whether the deprivation is reasonably related to a
public danger that is so "immediate, imminent and impending" as to not permit the ordinary
constitutional process. The fact that the order deprived Japanese-Americans fundamental rights is
unquestioned. However, no "immediate, imminent and impending" danger has been proffered to justify
the order. Instead, the Commanding General's Final Report is filled with instances of racial bias. The
military has inferred the potential guilt of over 100,000 citizens from the fact that a few are suspected to
H I G H

Korematsu v. United States (Continued)

be disloyal to the nation. No reason has been given why these citizens cannot be dealt with on an
individual basis by holding investigations and hearings to determine their loyalty. There was no
evidence that espionage was out of control. Furthermore, no Japanese-Americans have been found
guilty of treason.
DISSENT
(Jackson, J.) The fact is that Korematsu has been convicted of a crime because of who his parents are.
Were he of Italian or German descent, he would be free to remain in his home. The Constitution forbids
the military from executing an order such as the one which led to the conviction.

Analysis:
The existence of a compelling interest alone does not justify a violation of equal protection. The
classification chosen must be necessary to fulfill the objective sought. In this case, the threat of
espionage was the danger the government sought to avoid. Nevertheless, the Court failed to require the
government to show why internment was the only means of handling the question of espionage.
Furthermore, the Court ignored the fact that the order was both overinclusive and underinclusive
underinclusive in the sense that the order did not apply to Americans of German and Italian descent,
and overinclusive in that it applied to Japanese-Americans who were not suspected of espionage.

390

H I G H