Fred T. Korematsu (January 30, 1919 – March 30, 2005) was an American civil rights hero. In 1942, at the age of 23, he refused to go to the government’s incarceration camps for Japanese Americans. After he was arrested and convicted of defying the government’s order, he appealed his case all the way to the Supreme Court. In 1944, the Supreme Court ruled against him, arguing that the incarceration was justified due to military necessity.
In 1983, Prof. Peter Irons, a legal historian, together with researcher Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga, discovered key documents that government intelligence agencies had hidden from the Supreme Court in 1944. The documents consistently showed that Japanese Americans had committed no acts of treason to justify mass incarceration. With this new evidence, a pro-bono legal team that included the Asian Law Caucus re-opened Korematsu’s 40-year-old case on the basis of government misconduct. On November 10, 1983, Korematsu’s conviction was overturned in a federal court in San Francisco.
Although Judge Patel’s ruling cleared Korematsu’s conviction, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1944 ruling still stands. It would require a similar test case, involving a mass banishment of a single ethnic group, to challenge the original Supreme Court decision.
Quoted from the Karematsu Institute website, accessed January 30, 2018.
In 1988, President Reagan signed the The Civil Liberties Act and issued an official apology for the internment of Japanese-Americans and Aleuts. On October 9, 1990, a ceremony was held to present the first reparations checks. Nine elderly first generation Japanese immigrants received $20,000 each and a formal apology signed by President George Bush.
It is one of only five times that the United States has apologized for wrongdoing.