Hawai‘i governor establishes ‘Civil Liberties and the Constitution Day’

HONOLULU — Hawai‘i Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed a bill June 7 establishing Jan. 30 each year as “Civil Liberties and the Constitution Day.” While it’s not a state holiday, “the observance is intended to celebrate, honor and educate the public about these individuals’ commitment to preserving civil liberties,” a statement issued by Abercrombie’s office said.

The bill references the United States government’s actions, including the wartime incarceration of some 120,000 Nikkei during World War II. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942, which authorized the removal of individuals into American concentration camps.

The legislation also notes the efforts of Americans of Japanese ancestry who challenged the validity and constitutionality of those wartime actions:

Fred Korematsu, a Japanese American, was living on the West Coast of the United States during World War II, when he was arrested and convicted of defying government orders to report to a wartime concentration camp. He appealed and lost his case at the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled his incarceration was warranted. Forty-one years later, on Nov. 10, 1983, U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel vacated Korematsu’s conviction.

Gordon Hirabayashi, born in 1918 in Washington state to Japanese parents who had immigrated to the United States, was charged by a federal grand jury in Seattle for failing to report for the wartime incarceration, as well as for a curfew violation. He appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court in the first challenge to Executive Order 9066 but lost his appeal when the Supreme Court unanimously ruled to uphold Hirabayashi’s conviction for violating the order. Forty-four years later, in September 1987, his conviction was vacated.

Min Yasui was born in 1916 in Oregon to Japanese parents and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Infantry Reserve. Despite receiving orders to report to Fort Vancouver in Portland, Yasui was told that he was unacceptable for service, and was turned away from serving in the military. On March 28, 1942, Yasui directly challenged the constitutionality of Executive Order 9066 and was arrested for breaking curfew. Although his case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of Yasui for violating Executive Order 9066. Decades later, the court vacated his conviction, but other aspects of his claims remained unresolved.

Following Yasui’s death in 1986, the Supreme Court dismissed his appeal.

Sacramento, Calif. native Mitsuye Endo’s case reached the Supreme Court, with the court ruling in favor of the plaintiff. Endo’s petition before the Supreme Court forced federal authorities to re-examine the constitutionality of Executive Order 9066 and ultimately resulted in a decision by the Supreme Court that officially re-opened the West Coast of the United States for resettlement by Americans of Japanese ancestry.

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