WASHINGTON – In advance of this week’s Day of Remembrance recognizing the incarceration of thousands of Japanese Americans during World War II, Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Mark Takano (D-Riverside) on Feb. 15 introduced the Korematsu-Takai Civil Liberties Protection Act of 2019 to establish a clear legal prohibition against un-American policies that seek to imprison American citizens on the basis of race, religion, nationality, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity or disability.
The sponsors said that passing this bill would be a first step towards safeguarding vital freedoms that protect Americans from arbitrary detention with no due process, as happened to Japanese Americans.
“We cannot allow what my parents, grandparents, and 115,000 other Japanese Americans underwent during World War II to ever happen again in our country,” Takano said. “The cruelty and inhumanity behind the internment of Japanese Americans is a stain on the fabric of our country that was born out of hate, discrimination, and politics rooted in fear-mongering.
“The rhetoric and policies being promoted by this administration are a cause for concern and further emphasize the need for this legislation. In honor of Congressman [Mark] Takai [D-Hawaii] and Fred Korematsu, we must ensure that no person is ever a target of despicable policies that are discriminatory and un-American.”
“We, as a nation, must never forget or repeat the horrors thousands of Japanese Americans experienced as prisoners within our own borders,” Duckworth said. “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 and Congressman Takano, in honor of the courage of Fred Korematsu and in remembrance of my dear friend and former colleague Mark Takai, to protect civil liberties and strengthen our resolve to ensure we never again repeat such shameful acts.”
“The incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II was deeply wrong and something like it should never happen again,”Hirono said. “Over the past two years, however, Donald Trump and his administration have pursued divisive policies and rhetoric that demonize the Muslim community and other marginalized groups. By repudiating the Supreme Court’s precedent in Korematsu, this legislation makes clear that a travesty like the Japanese internment should never happen again. And by standing up for the civil rights of all communities, we honor the life and work of our friend and colleague Mark Takai.”
The legislation is named in honor of Takai for his long-time leadership on this issue prior to his passing, and Korematsu, who bravely challenged the order that directed all people of Japanese ancestry be removed from designated areas on the West Coast.
In 1942, the lieutenant general of the Western Command of the Army issued Civilian Exclusion Order 34. On Dec. 18, 1944, the Supreme Court affirmed the 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 2019 would fix this problem once and for all. Duckworth originally introduced this legislation in 2017.
The federal criminal code contains no explicit prohibition on imprisoning or detaining citizens solely on the basis of race, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, national origin or disability. The threat is amplified by the fact that the Supreme Court did not directly overrule the precedents set by the three condemned decisions in the cases of Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayashi and Minoru Yasui.
Despite the Office of the Solicitor General apologizing for the federal government’s misconduct in hiding evidence while litigating the Korematsu and Hirabayashi cases, just last year the Department of Defense positively cited Hirabayashi as good law.
“This year marks my father’s 100th birthday and the 75th anniversary of Korematsu v. United States decision,” said Karen Korematsu, founder and executive director of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute. “At these milestones, it is a reminder that we must ‘Stand up for what is right’ and ‘Stop repeating history’ by enacting a law that will ensure what happened to my father and 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry can never be done to anyone again in the U.S.
“It is fitting at this time of national stress that our lawmakers use their powers to correct one of the worst U.S. Supreme Court decisions of all time. I am grateful for the leadership of Sen. Duckworth, Sen. Hirono and Congressman Takano for introducing a bill that honors both my father and the late Congressman Takai.”
“The Korematsu-Takai Civil Liberties Protection Act acknowledges a dark chapter of our history when our government used national security as a pretext for racial discrimination, and incarcerated tens of thousands of Japanese Americans unconstitutionally,” said National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) President Daniel Sakaguchi. “This bill honors the memories of Fred Korematsu and Congressman Mark Takai by enacting measures to stop this sordid history from being repeated — and would bar detentions based on race, religion, or other protected characteristics.
“We thank Sen. Duckworth, Sen. Hirono, and Congressman Takano for continuing to champion this important legislation and the more than a dozen original cosponsors of the bill for joining this effort to protect the civil rights and civil liberties of all communities.”
“We are five days from the date when President [Franklin] Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which ordered the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans in 1942. It was a dark day both then and now in the civil liberties and civil rights of all Americans,” said John C. Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC. “We applaud Sen. Duckworth for introducing this legislation to protect vulnerable communities from atrocities such as the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans against which Fred Korematsu bravely stood. We are proud to support the Korematsu-Takai Civil Liberties Protection Act to uphold Mr. Korematsu’s legacy to ensure such acts of injustice never happen again.”
This legislation is endorsed by the Korematsu Institute, Stop Repeating History, the Anti-Defamation League, the Japanese American Citizens League, the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, NAACP, Human Rights Campaign, National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC.