Korematsu's Echo

(AP Photo/File)

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, granting the U.S. military the power to remove tens of thousands of American citizens of Japanese ancestry from areas deemed critical to domestic security. This order eventually allowed the military to create internment camps to house those of Japanese descent who lived along the Pacific coast. They were given little time to pack. They lost their homes and their businesses with no compensation.

Fred Korematsu, an American-born citizen of Japanese descent, refused to leave his home in San Leandro, California, defied the executive order and was arrested. He was convicted and eventually appealed the case which made its way to the Supreme Court. The Court ruled 6-3 to uphold the conviction. Justice Robert Jackson’s dissent gives insight into his concerns which are relevant to today’s “Stay At Home” executive orders by Governors of many states.

“Korematsu … has been convicted of an act not commonly thought a crime. It consists merely of being present in the state whereof he is a citizen, near the place where he was born, and where all his life he has lived.”

This sounds all to familiar thousands of businesses near bankruptcy and millions of people losing the their jobs simply because they are deemed “non-essential.” But the real force of Jackson’s argument was foretelling of a future event; One which we find ourselves in now.

“A military order, however unconstitutional, is not apt to last longer than the military emergency. … But once a judicial opinion rationalizes such an order to show that it conforms to the Constitution, or rather rationalizes the Constitution to show that the Constitution sanctions such an order, the Court for all of time has validated the principle of racial discrimination. … The principle then lies about like a loaded weapon ready for the hand of any authority that can bring forward a plausible claim of urgent need.”

While racial discrimination is not the issue at hand, “essential work” is, which is certainly no better and perhaps worse. Those so-called non-essential workers are mostly low-wage, service-oriented; the majority being racially in the minority. Many of them will be unemployed for a long time, and a good percentage of businesses in the service industry will close for good.

While Korematsu was referenced negatively in Trump vs. Hawaii, it was never truly overturned. If the courts don’t turn back this Executive overreach once and for all, we will constantly be in danger of the next “crisis” which will allow them to take away our rights again and again.