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Korematsu v. United States (1944) Historical Context


Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution is celebrated annually in the United States on January 30, mainly in California. This day is dedicated to a Japanese-American civil rights activist. This is the first day in the history of the United States to be named after an Asian American. Below, the significance of Korematsu v. The United States (1944) from a historical perspective will be evaluated.

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Fred Korematsu was born in Oakland, California, on January 30, 1919; his Japanese parents immigrated to the United States in 1905. When Japanese Americans were trafficked from the West Coast to internment camps during World War II, Korematsu remained in California, arguing that Executive Order 9066, which legalized internment, was unconstitutional. He went into hiding but was arrested and imprisoned. Korematsu was convicted in federal court for evading detention. On December 18, 1944, the US Supreme Court ruled that Executive Order 9066 is constitutional, which means that Americans of Japanese descent can legally be sent to internment camps regardless of citizenship.

The decision in Korematsu v. The United States (1944) was controversial. In 1983, Korematsu appealed against him in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, and a judge overturned his previous conviction for evading internment. In granting Mr. Korematsu’s request for a warrant for the Coram Nobis error, Judge Patel acknowledged in her ruling that grave injustice had been committed against American citizens and permanent residents of Japanese origin who, without individual consideration or any evidence, was extradited, detained, resettled, or arrested by the United States during World War II against their wills.

Fred Korematsu’s lifelong pursuit of justice in his own name and for countless others is a unique sign of the fundamental ideals and traditions of the American state and nation. He remained a tireless advocate and unchanging symbol of every American’s right to liberty, due process, and equality, regardless of race, ethnicity, or national origin. In 2011 (six years after Korematsu’s death), it was acknowledged that Korematsu’s decision was wrong, although it was not explicitly reversed.

Finally, Fred Korematsu’s Civil Liberties and the Constitution Day was officially established by law by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2010 (Fred T. Korematsu Institute, 2015). It is also celebrated in Hawaii, Virginia, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia, Utah, and South Carolina. It might be concluded that the struggle of Korematsu has become an important symbol for the American nation in the framework of unity and equal rights.

New Deal Success

The new administration and Congress, first of all, were forced to deal with banking and financial problems. In early March 1933, the banks ceased to operate. The president was forced to declare a state of emergency and close all banks. It seems rational to discuss whether Roosevelt’s policy was appropriate and successful or not, appealing to concrete regulations and cases in this regard.

The emergency session of the Congress was postponed from March 9 to 6, and in the first hours of its activities, Congress passed an emergency banking law. Shortly afterward, on March 10, the president issued a decree ensuring absolute state control over gold. This decree did not allow him to be taken abroad and to engage in gold speculation. The government was given the financial opportunity to rule the gold content of the dollar, which it later took advantage of. Expanding government intervention in the banking sector, the government decided to begin the revival of the banking system on March 13. On this day, 12 central banks of the Federal Reserve System (Fed) were opened. In the morning, another 250 banks in different cities were declared “healthy,” and on March 15, all banks, without exception, started working.

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Under the Banking Act of 1935, the board of directors gained control of the reserve. This meant that the council was able to influence business activity by reducing or increasing the level of reserves (Richardson, Komai, & Gou, 2013). This is very important because the actions of banks came under the control of the state authorities. However, banking reform is not the only thing that needed to be done. There was also the problem of social protection, which also worried the authorities. Therefore, in 1933, the Roosevelt administration approved a $ 500 million grant to help the unemployed. Hopkins was appointed the head of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA). In total, more than $ 4 billion was spent on unemployment benefits. However, the unemployed did not prefer public assistance to community service.

In close connection with these measures, legislation was introduced to regulate operations on stock exchanges. In 1933-1934, two laws were passed to regulate exchange activities; on the basis of these laws, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) was established (SEC, 2013). By 1937, 3,500 companies had applied to the commission to register their shares for a total of $ 13 billion. Sometimes the commission was involved in court cases regarding the constitutionality of its activities. In this regard, the case Jones v. SEC (1936) is worth mentioning. In this case, the Supreme Court addressed a number of constitutional issues within the scope of the Securities Act, and the latter was claimed to be legitimate. The blurred constitutional authorities of this brunch of legislation provided the federal government with the opportunity to lean on the states for regulating the related public relationships without reducing the governmental presence in this sphere.

Thus, as can be seen, the main method of combating the crisis was government intervention in all spheres of public life. It seems that the Roosevelt administration turned to the system in which the governmental presence and regulations are essential and appropriate, as it was ruled in such cases as Northern Securities Co. v. U.S. (1904) and Swift and Co. v. U.S. (1905); this approach was reasonable and successful – both from political and legal perspectives. Social protection, control over production, and sales began to work, the revival of production took place. Although some of the methods were not entirely humane (destruction of agricultural products), it was thanks to this approach that the US overcame the crisis and began to develop.

In Times of Panic, we Fear Freedom

The Second World War completed the process of transformation of the US into the financial, economic, and military-political leader of the capitalist world. The share of the United States in the industrial production of the West in 1948 was more than half. Economic primacy, military power, and a monopoly on nuclear weapons have given rise to claims to world leadership. Nevertheless, the competition between the US and the USSR was escalated to such an extent that the American government and citizens were put in an informational vacuum of propaganda and ideological influence. In the United States, people were afraid of the exaggerated and invisible enemy – a Soviet spy who aimed to undermine all the country’s democratic principles and societal foundations. The situation in the US during the period of 1945 to 1991 – which is called the Cold War – could be characterized by the following expression, “In times of panic, we fear freedom.” The appropriacy of the latter statement will be apparent after the discussion on the US governmental and legal policy during those times.

With the end of the war, the problem of reconversion arose. The new course in terms of state regulation of the economy remained in force, without losing another feature – liberal social reform. Democrat President Truman in September 1945 came out with a “fair course” program: there were laws on full employment, increasing the minimum wage, expanding the social security system, and limiting racial discrimination. In February 1946, the employment law was passed. The conquest of the majority in the Senate by the Republicans largely determined the revision of the liberal labor legislation, torpedoing the program to curb inflation. In 1946, a massive strike movement developed; the lawmakers responded with the Taft-Hartley Act in June 1947. In labor relations, the government rejected the “closed shop” clause and curtailed the workers’ right to strike, and introduced strict control over the activities of trade unions that were directly associated with communism. Moreover, in March 1947, Truman issued an order to test the loyalty of civil servants.

In the late 40s-early 50s, there is rampant McCarthyism – a reactionary political movement that promotes the fight against the “communist threat” and spy mania. In September 1950, the Internal Security Act by McCarran was passed: a directorate for the control of subversive communist activities was created (Gruberg, n.d.). Members of the US Communist Party had to be registered as agents of a foreign power. Here, it seems reasonable to mention the case of Rosenberg v. the United States (1953) in which a communist couple was executed, given the accusation of conspiracy to commit espionage by providing the USSR with the information regarding the atomic bomb. The process was in lack of solid and convincing evidence, as well as the element of prejudice was also present, which resulted in the contradictory legacy of the case.

Moreover, there have been many issues in the framework of freedom of speech. For instance, in Dennis v. United States (1951), the Supreme Court ruled that the Smith Act was constitutional. It was stated that the advocators of forced overthrowing of the government, as well as ones taking part in any such advocating groups, will be charged with criminal accusations. According to the Supreme Court, it was appropriate to restrict the guarantees regarding freedom of speech when it comes to danger to the safety of the US social and political foundations. However, even in such dark times, the power of the rationality of law came into force – in Yates v. the United States (1957), the Supreme Court mitigated the limitation of freedom of speech, reducing the power of the Smith Act to an exact degree.

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To conclude, the legal practice of the US during the Cold War reflects the statement that when it comes to panic, a governor will limit freedom – even if it is not necessary. The legal case of Dennis v. the United States (1951) showed that the authorities are primed to restrict the penetration of foreign political elements into the US political system by any means – even if the fundamental rights of citizens will be neglected. It was also shown that within the scope of the topic, fear was accompanied by prejudice, blurring the essence of the legal system and resulting in unfair and unreasonable decisions and actions.


Dennis v. United States, 341 U.S. 494 (1951).

Fred T. Korematsu Institute. (2015). About Fred Korematsu Day. Web.

Gruberg, M. (n.d.). McCarran Internal Security Act of 1950 (1950).

Jones v. SEC, 298 U.S. 1 (1936).

Northern Securities Co. v. United States, 193 U.S. 197 (1904).

Richardson, G., Komai, A., & Gou, M. (2013). Banking Act of 1935. Federal Reserve History.

Rosenberg v. United States, 346 U.S. 273 (1953).

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SEC. (2013). The laws that govern the securities industry.

Swift & Co. v. United States, 196 U.S. 375 (1905).

Yates v. United States, 354 U.S. 298 (1957).

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