Sacramento — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Sept. 23 signed Assembly Bill 1775, which establishes Jan. 30 as Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution. The bill uses the wrongful conviction of Fred Korematsu during World War II to emphasize the importance of preserving civil liberties and the Constitution.
“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,” said Assemblymember Warren Furutani (D-Long Beach), co-author of the bill, in a Sept. 25 statement. During World War II, Korematsu was a 23-year-old welder in San Leandro, Calif., who defied military orders that ultimately led to the incarceration of some 120,000 persons of Japanese descent, including Korematsu and his family. The Korematsu family was held first in the Tanforan Assembly Center in San Bruno, Calif., and then incarcerated in the Topaz (Central Utah) concentration camp.
Korematsu took his challenge to the military orders to the U.S. Supreme Court, which, in 1944, upheld his conviction on the ground that the forced removal of Japanese Americans was justified by “military necessity.”
After four decades of having to live with a “disloyalty” conviction on his record that limited him from securing full-time work, Korematsu filed suit to reopen his case on proof that the government, when arguing his case during the war, had suppressed, altered and destroyed material evidence that contradicted the government’s claim of military necessity.
In 1983, the Federal District Court for the Northern District of California granted his petition for a writ of error coram nobis (a notice of error) and overturned his conviction.
The Nikkei went on to champion the cause of civil liberties, not only seeking redress for Japanese Americans who were wrongfully incarcerated, but also traveling the country to advocate for the civil rights of other victims of excessive government action, particularly after 9/11. Korematsu passed away in 2005 at the age of 86.
The first Fred Korematsu Day will be celebrated on Jan. 30, 2011 on Fred Korematsu’s birthday. The Korematsu Institute, launched last year by the Asian Law Caucus and in partnership with the Korematsu family, plans to introduce curriculum in schools that week and on all future Korematsu Days.
Marty Block, a San Diego Democrat, co-authored the bill with Furutani.
The Fred T. Korematsu Campus of San Leandro High School opened on Sept. 30.