'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Death of Gordon Hirabayashi 

Like Fred Korematsu, Hirabayashi refused to compy with President Roosevelt's internment order:

Mr. Hirabayashi, a son of Japanese immigrants, was a senior at the University of Washington when the United States entered World War II. He adhered to the pacifist principles of his parents, who had once belonged to a Japanese religious sect similar to the Quakers.

When the West Coast curfew was imposed, ordering people of Japanese background to be home by 8 p.m., Mr. Hirabayashi ignored it. When the internment directive was put in place, he refused to register at a processing center and was jailed.

Contending that the government’s actions were racially discriminatory, Mr. Hirabayashi proved unyielding. He refused to post $500 bail because he would have been transferred to an internment camp while awaiting trial. He remained in jail from May 1942 until October of that year, when his case was heard before a federal jury in Seattle.

Found guilty of violating both the curfew and internment orders, he was sentenced to concurrent three-month prison terms. While his appeal was pending, he remained at the local jail for an additional four months, then was released and sent to Spokane, Wash., to work on plans to relocate internees when they were finally released.

His appeal, along with one by Mr. Yasui, a lawyer from Hood River, Ore., who had been jailed for nine months for curfew defiance, made its way to the Supreme Court. In 1943, ruling unanimously, the court upheld the curfew as a constitutional exercise of the government’s war powers. Mr. Hirabayashi served out his three-month prison term at a work camp near Tucson.

The Supreme Court declined to rule at the time on Mr. Hirabayashi’s challenge to internment as well. (Mr. Yasui had contested only the curfew.) But in December 1944, in a case brought by Mr. Korematsu, a welder from Oakland, Calif., the court upheld the constitutionality of internment in a 6-to-3 vote.

Not surprisingly, Japanese Americans have played a prominent role in organizing opposition to post-9/11 measures that have resulted in the surveillance, detention and deportation of Muslims. It is also important to remember that the liberal, New Deal Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the internment, and that the Korematsu decision has never been overturned. In other words, it remains a legal precedent that may be invoked by the court in the near future to uphold presidential authority to kill or indefinitely detain people at home or abroad. Interestingly, Hirabayashi was also incarcerated for refusing induction into the military. He refused to renounce allegiance to the Emperor of Japan as required for induction, because he considered it racially discriminatory when no other ethnic groups were required to deny the possibility of loyalty to another country.

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