WASHINGTON — On the 73rd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s widely condemned Korematsu decision, which justified the incarceration of that thousands of Japanese Americans during World War II, Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) introduced the Korematsu-Takai Civil Liberties Protection Act of 2017 to prevent similar civil and human rights violations from happening on U.S. soil ever again.
Their legislation, also known as S. 2250, is named in honor of the late Rep. Mark Takai (D-Hawaii) for his long-time leadership on this issue prior to his passing. With President Trump’s continued efforts to restrict minority and immigrant rights, the senators said, the bill would help the nation stop repeating history by ensuring that no individual is imprisoned or detained based upon a protected characteristic such as race, ethnicity, religion, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation.
Rep. Mark Takano (D-Riverside) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.
“We, as a nation, must never forget or repeat the horrors thousands of Japanese Americans experienced as prisoners within our own borders,” said Duckworth. “We must also continue to do everything we can to ensure such a national travesty never happens again. I’m proud to introduce this bill with Sen. Hirono in remembrance of my dear friend and former colleague Mark Takai to reinstate our commitment to protecting civil liberties and strengthen our resolve to ensure we never again repeat such shameful acts.”
“The internment of Japanese Americans was deeply wrong and set a precedent — that it should never happen again,” said Hirono. “However, the president and his administration continue to advance divisive policies and rhetoric that demonize the Muslim community and other minority communities. By repudiating this legal precedent that could allow a travesty like the internment to happen again, we are standing up for the civil rights of all communities, a worthy cause that I’m sure our friend Mark Takai would have joined us on.”
“This legislation is an important acknowledgement of the injustice suffered by my grandparents, parents, and more than 115,000 others who were relocated and imprisoned based on nothing more than their heritage,” said Takano. “This stain on our history must serve as a warning of what happens when we allow fear and hate to overwhelm our basic respect for one another. I am proud to introduce this legislation in the House, and I could not think of a more appropriate way to honor the memory of Congressman Mark Takai, who was a good friend, a great public servant, and an even better person.”
Takai, who represented Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District, died in July 2016 at the age of 49.
In 1942, the lieutenant general of the Army’s Western Command issued Civilian Exclusion Order 34, which directed that all people of Japanese ancestry be removed from designated areas of the West Coast because they were considered a threat to national security. Fred Korematsu (1919-2005) bravely challenged that order. However, on Dec. 18, 1944, the Supreme Court affirmed his conviction in Korematsu v. United States.
The Non-Detention Act of 1971 sought to remedy this problem by repudiating the legal framework allowing the government to detain U.S. citizens by deeming them national security risks. However, the Non-Detention Act did not specifically bar detentions or imprisonment based on characteristics such as race or religion. The Korematsu-Takai Civil Liberties Protection Act of 2017 would fix this problem.
“‘Stand up for what is right’ is what my father said, and Sen. Duckworth and Sen. Hirono epitomize that call to action by introducing this bill to prohibit the detention of individuals in the U.S. based solely on their actual or perceived protected characteristics,” said Karen Korematsu, founder and executive director of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute in San Francisco.
“I am grateful to the senators for introducing this bill on the 73rd anniversary of the Korematsu v. United States decision. At this time of national stress, it is fitting to bring attention to one of the worst U.S. Supreme Court decisions of all times. Even though my father’s federal conviction was vacated in 1983 after it was discovered that the government engaged in extreme misconduct, the original U.S. Supreme Court decision was never overturned — although it has been widely discredited.
“I hope the members of Congress will take up my father’s call to action and ‘stop repeating history’ by passing this bill.”
“This legislation is an important step towards ensuring what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II is never repeated,” said David Inoue, executive director of the Japanese American Citizens League. “It is a fitting tribute to the late Congressman Takai, who dedicated his career to ensuring the legacy of the Japanese American experience would be remembered so that no other group would suffer similar infringement of their civil rights.”
“The specter of the Korematsu decision haunts us to this day,” said National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) president Pankit Doshi. “With this bill, Congress has the chance to repudiate the Supreme Court’s ruling and prevent the country from repeating a dark chapter of our nation’s history. We thank Sens. Duckworth, Hirono, and Rep. Takano for their leadership in trying to overturn this widely condemned decision. As leaders in the legal profession and in recognition of our history as Asian Pacific Americans, NAPABA fully supports the introduction and passage of this legislation.”
“The decision to uphold the conviction of Fred Korematsu was a travesty of justice in our history and a dark day in the civil liberties and civil rights of all Americans,” said John C. Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC). “In this past year, we have been shocked to see that Mr. Korematsu’s case was used as precedent in support of recent morally unconscionable actions by this government, most notably the Muslim travel ban. We applaud Sen. Duckworth for introducing this legislation and are proud to support this bill to uphold Mr. Korematsu’s legacy in making sure such acts of injustice against Americans never happen again.”
Co-sponsors of the bill include Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).
This legislation is endorsed by following stakeholders: The Korematsu Institute, Stop Repeating History, Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies, JACL, AAJC and NAPABA.