Working Papers

Fighting the Japanese Internment in Federal Court:
The A.C.L.U. During World War II

R. Jeffrey Blair
Aichi Gakuin University
Nagoya, Japan

An earlier paper (Blair, 1999) describes the background of the Japanese Internment and the efforts of the American Civil Liberties Union to lobby against it before legislatures and the public. This paper describes the organizationšs efforts to litigate in the courts against curfews imposed on the West Coast Japanese, their evacuation, and their internment in camps.

      Three Caucasian groups in the United States--the Fair Play Committee (Shidler, 1952), the American Friends Service Committee, and the American Civil Liberties Union (Blair, 1999 and McDaid, 1969)--recognized the grave injustice of the Japanese Internment carried out during the Second World War. All three attempted to defend the reputation of Japanese (this term will include all ethnic Japanese regardless of citizenship) on the West Coast and to mitigate the impact of the United States government's shameful and racist policy. When the political battle was lost, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) continued this fight in the courts. Since the legal issues under dispute concerned federal policy, all litigation took place in the federal courts--United States district courts, appeals courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court. (For convenience and the sake of brevity, the term "United States" will usually be omitted when referring to these courts.)

      In the first half of 1942, the ACLU national office prodded its three West Coast branches to find evacuation test cases and bring them to litigation. All three complied enthusiastically. Seattle took up the defense of Minoru Yasui and Gordon Hirabayashi; San Francisco found Fred Korematsu and Mitsuye Endo; and Los Angles argued the cause of Earnest Wakayama.

Resistance and Evasion [Text]

Court Appeals [Text]

(Continued) [Text]

Habeus Corpus [Text]

Conclusions [Text]


      The author wishes to acknowledge the invaluable contributions of the late James Blanchfield (1938-1982) and Federal Judge Martin Pence (1905-2000) to this paper. My understanding of federal case law and court procedures comes in large part from the experience of defending myself in federal court from June 1972 (arraignment) to July 1973 (sentencing). It was a pleasure as well as an education to observe my co-counsel and the presiding judge interact and to listen to their views and advice.
      I would also like to express special thanks to the History Department at the California Institute of Technology, where this paper originated, particularly to two professors--Robert Rosenstone and Clayton Koppes (now at Oberlin College)--and his sincere thanks to Ray Donahue (Nagoya Gakuin University) for valuable critical comments on earlier drafts. Not all of the advice received was necessarily heeded, however, and I retain full responsibility for the final product.


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Blair, J. (1999). In opposition to the Japanese Internment: The ACLU during World War II. The Faculty Journal of Aichi Gakuin Junior College, 7, pp. 182-208.

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Fine, S. (1964). Mr. Justice Murphy and the Hirabayashi case. Reprinted from Pacific Historical Review, 33(2), pp. 195-209 in R. Lowitt and J. Wall (Eds.) Interpreting Twentieth Century America: A Reader, pp. 380-391.

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Kunitani, M. (1942). Unpublished letter to Allen C Blaisdell dated 3 July 1942 contained in the Japanese-American Research Project at the UCLA University Research Library (Collection #2010, Box 154).

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Yasui v. United States, 63 S. Ct. 1392 (1943).

Working Papers