SACRAMENTO — The California state Legislature on Aug. 24 passed Assembly Bill 1775, which would establish Jan. 30 as Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution. The bill is headed to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk for his signature. The bill 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.
“The incarceration of Americans of Japanese descent did not happen in ancient history; it happened less than seventy years ago,” said Assemblymember Warren T. Furutani (D-Los Angeles). “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 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 the United States Supreme Court upheld Korematsu’s conviction in 1944, he along with a legal team made up 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’s 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 her father’s conviction was overturned in 1983, “his mission was education,” said Karen Korematsu. “He thought 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. This day would enable students the opportunity to learn and discuss the lessons of American history relevant to the current discussions of the Constitution and our civil liberties. I urge the governor to sign AB1775, Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution in the name of education for our children of today and future generations.”