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.”
Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox (Library of Congress)
“Whether ours shall continue to be a government of laws and not of men is now for Congress and ultimately the American people.”
–Archibald Cox, in a statement after being fired by President Nixon
Yesterday’s firing of FBI Director James Comey by President Trump — amid an investigation by the FBI of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia — has reminded many of the last time a president fired the person in charge of investigating him. In 1973, in the middle of the Watergate investigation, President Richard Nixon fired the special prosecutor in charge, Archibald Cox, after Cox subpoenaed Nixon for copies of Oval Office recordings. Nixon’s Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General resigned in protest, in what became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre.” (Current Attorney General Jeff Sessions supported the decision to fire Comey.) Public opinion turned against Nixon, as polls following Cox’s firing showed a majority of the country supporting impeachment. Congress began impeachment proceedings the following year and shortly after Nixon resigned.
Learn more about the Saturday Night Massacre, and the history of legal checks on rulers, in our film Magna Carta and the Constitution.