Korematsu v. United States
In wartime, constitutional rights can be denied under certain circumstances, according to the U.S. Supreme Court decision Korematsu v. United States.
The case, based on executive order 9066 issued by President Roosevelt in 1942 that required Americans of Japanese descent to report to detention camps during World War II, resulted in a split decision and stands despite common knowledge that information was suppressed by the government during the trial.
In short, a majority of the Court sided with the U.S. government, saying that it’s legal to detain ethnic groups to prevent espionage, essentially suspending the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process before depriving any individual of his freedom.
The plaintiff in the case, Korematsu, was a California resident of Japanese descent who did not report to a detention camp during the war, and made great effort to disguise himself so he would not be apprehended. After he was convicted and sentenced for disobeying the order he appealed to the California supreme court in 1983 using a writ of coram nobis, which is a motion to have the court correct its earlier decision based on information that was omitted. (It is believed that one of the key government officials involved in the court’s determination of the validity of the executive order did not provide the court with evidence that Japanese residents were not aiding the enemy.)
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review the case but found that the courts had acted appropriately out of concern for national defense and not out of racism, and did not remand or reverse Korematsu’s conviction.
When a Japanese pilot crashed onto a Hawaiian island in 1942, American-born residents of Japanese descent were called upon to communicate with him. In a subsequent episode of attempted escape the Japanese-speaking Hawaiians apparently tried to aid the downed pilot, essentially turning against fellow Islanders (Hawaii wasn’t yet a state). This situation fueled a frenzy of speculation that Japanese Americans would routinely aid the enemy and perhaps act against the United States.
In an unprecedented move, the government created detention camps throughout the West and under Roosevelt’s executive order, notified Japanese-American residents of a deadline to report to the camps. These people left their homes and businesses, believing they had to prove their loyalty by complying with the order.