WASHINGTON — Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) sent a letter to President Barack Obama May 11, requesting that he posthumously award the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, to a Japanese American woman who challenged the mass wartime incarceration.

The Supreme Court ultimately ruled in Mitsuye Endo’s favor.

“Ms. Endo was an ordinary person who made the extraordinary choice to forego her own freedom in order to secure the rights of 120,000 Japanese Americans who were wrongfully imprisoned without the benefit of due process,” wrote Schatz. “Her story exemplifies a core American principle; we are a nation of laws where one person can stand up against an injustice and alter the course of our democracy.”

During World War II, the Sacramento, Calif. woman was incarcerated in Tule Lake, Calif. and later Topaz (Central Utah), following President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066, which led to the mass imprisonment of persons of Japanese descent in American concentration camps.

While incarcerated, Endo challenged the constitutionality of the camps. When the War Relocation Authority offered to release her, she chose to remain imprisoned, so to pursue her legal case. According to a statement issued by Schatz, “News of an impending Supreme Court’s 9-0 ruling in favor of Endo led to the Roosevelt Administration’s rescission of Executive Order 9066 on December 17, 1944, a day before the Endo decision was handed down.”

The Japanese American Citizens League and the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans are among the organizations who have expressed their support for Schatz’s request, the statement said.

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