The Topaz War Relocation Center, where Fred Korematsu was sent after his arrest (National Archives)
In his majority opinion in Trump v. Hawaii
, Chief Justice John Roberts overturned the ruling in Korematsu v. United States
(1944) that had stood for nearly three quarters of a century in response to a dissent written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor that drew parallels between the opinion in Trump
and that in Korematsu
Roberts’s opinion in Trump upheld an Executive Order by President Donald Trump to exclude people from several predominantly Muslim countries from traveling to the United States on national security grounds. Koremastu upheld the internement of Japanese Americans during World War II ruling that it was based on “proper security measures” in time of war.
Justice Roberts denied any relation between Trump and Korematsu, but took the opportunity of its mention to overturn Korematsu, quoting a dissent by Justice Robert Jackson. “Koremastu was gravely wrong the day it was decided, has been overruled in the court of history, and—to be clear—’has no place in law under the Constitution.'”
In her dissent in Trump, Justice Sotomayor wrote, “By blindly accepting the Government’s misguided invitation to sanction a discriminatory policy motivated by animosity toward a disfavored group, all in the name of a superficial claim of national security, the Court redeploys the same dangerous logic underlying Korematsu and merely replaces one ‘gravely wrong’ decision with another.”
The Topaz War Relocation Center in Utah, where Fred Korematsu was sent after his arrest (National Archives)
On this day in 1942, a man named Fred Korematsu was walking with his girlfriend down a street in San Leandro, California, when he was stopped by police. He was arrested for something that, at the time, was illegal: being of Japanese descent on the West Coast of the United States. Just a few months earlier, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had issued Executive Order 9066, which ordered that all people of Japanese ancestry — even native-born American citizens — on the West Coast of the United States were to be rounded up and put in concentration camps. 120,000 people were removed from their homes and placed in “relocations centers” scattered around the western and central United States. But Fred Korematsu didn’t report for “relocation.” And his arrest would spark one of the most infamous Supreme Court decisions in our nation’s history. Learn more in our film, Korematsu and Civil Liberties.