SACRAMENTO.—A bill which would designate Jan. 30 as Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution unanimously passed the Assembly Committee on Education on Wednesday. Jan. 30 is Korematsu’s birthday; the civil rights icon passed away in 2005.
Presented by Assemblymember Warren T. Furutani (D-South Los Angeles County) AB 1775 recognizes the importance of preserving civil liberties and the Constitution no matter the extenuating circumstances. The wrongful conviction of Fred Korematsu, which was overturned 40 years after Korematsu was convicted and his appeal denied, is the substance and the context of the bill. The bill will be voted on by the full Assembly at a later date to be determined.
Korematsu’s daughter Karen Korematsu Haigh also attended the committee meeting.
“My father’s experiences around the unconstitutional incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II and his subsequent redemption shape how we discuss civil liberties today,” said Korematsu Haigh. “Honoring my father on Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution on his birthday keeps his legacy alive.”
During WWII, Korematsu was a 22-year-old welder in Oakland, who defied military orders that ultimately let to the internment of 110,000 Japanese Americans, including Korematsu and his family who were removed from their homes, held first in the Tanforan Race Track Assembly Center in San Bruno, Calif., and then incarcerated in the Topaz internment camp in Utah.
He took his challenge to the military orders to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 1944, upheld his conviction on the ground that the removal of Japanese Americans was justified by “military necessity.” That decision has been widely condemned as one of the darkest chapters in American legal history.
After four decades of having to live with a “disloyalty” conviction on his record that limited him from securing full-time work, Korematsu filed suit to reopen his case on proof that the government, when arguing his case during the war, had suppressed, altered, and destroyed material evidence that contradicted the government’s claim of military necessity.
In 1984, 25 years ago,-the Federal District Court for the northern District of California granted his petition for a writ of coram nobis (a notice of error) and vacated his conviction.
Furutani, in an interview with The Rafu Shimpo, explained that Korematsu Day would be an opportunity to stress the importance of preserving civil liberties and the U.S. Constitution. He said the bill also would honor the courageous stands taken by other individuals including, Rosa Parks, Gordon Hirabayashi and Min Yasui.
Korematsu Day would also be distinct from Day of Remembrance, which is marked on Feb. 19, the day President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066.
“It’s not just nostalgia, the issues of Korematsu have current impact on all of us especially after 9/11,” said Furutani. “The issues of civil liberties have to stand strong whatever the political wind.”
He noted that the bill had strong bipartisan support on the committee and credited the work of the Japanese American community in telling the story of the wartime evacuation to the broader community.
“The end result is our efforts to educate the broader community is paying dividends,” said Furutani. “It’s amazing. I think the JA community needs to know this—that the work that people have been doing from the Manzanar Pilgrimage, to the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, the 442nd and Go For Broke, all of this stuff we’ve been doing for the last 30-40 years. Once community decided that we need to confront this reality, it is an experience that has defined our history.”