SACRAMENTO. – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed Assembly Bill 1775 (Furutani), which establishes Jan. 30 as Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution. AB 1775 uses the wrongful conviction of Fred Korematsu during World War II to emphasize the importance of preserving civil liberties and the Constitution no matter the extenuating circumstances.
“I would like to thank Gov. Schwarzenegger for signing this significant piece of legislation, which promotes the protection of freedom and constitutional rights,” said Assemblymember Furutani. “Fred Korematsu was an ordinary man who did an extraordinary thing during a time when his constitutional rights were violated, and as a consequence, changed the course of history. The Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution will provide an important teaching moment for California and its students.”
Korematsu, an American citizen of Japanese descent who lived in California, refused to comply with the military exclusion order that led to the incarceration of more than 100,000 Japanese Americans and permanent residents of Japanese descent in concentration camps during World War II. He was arrested and convicted of violating the exclusion order, which affected his ability to obtain employment long after those incarcerated were allowed to leave the camps.
Although Korematsu’s conviction was upheld in 1944 by the United States Supreme Court, he along with a pro bono legal team comprised of young Japanese American and Asian American attorneys petitioned for a writ of error coram nobis in 1983 to overturn his conviction. Judge Marilyn Hall Patel overturned Korematsu’s conviction, and her decision acknowledged that:
“A grave injustice was done to American citizens and resident aliens of Japanese ancestry who, without individual review or any probative evidence against them, were excluded, removed and detained by the United States during World War II.”
“After my father’s conviction was overturned in 1983, his focus and mission was education,” said Karen Korematsu. “He believed it was important to teach about his struggle for justice and the Japanese American incarceration so that the mistakes of history would not be repeated in the future. The significance of this day will enable students of today and tomorrow to learn and discuss the lessons of American history relevant to the current discussions of the Constitution and our civil liberties.”
AB 1775 enjoyed broad support from organizations including Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Fred T. Korematsu Institute for Civil Rights and Education, Muslim Public Affairs Council, and the Japanese American Citizens League.
Assemblymember Warren T. Furutani (D-South Los Angeles County) represents the 55th Assembly District, which includes the cities of Carson, Harbor City and the Harbor Gateway, Lakewood, parts of Long Beach, and Wilmington.