Rabya Khan speaks on panel honoring Fred Korematsu day

On Wednesday, January 30, CAIR-Chicago co-sponsored and participated in two events honoring the legacy of Fred Korematsu at Loyola School of Law and John Marshall Law School.The events featured guest speakers William Yoshino, the Midwest Director of the Japanese American Citizens League, and Rabya Khan, Staff Attorney at the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The events also included a special screening of the Fred Korematsu documentary, “Of Civil Wrongs and Rights: The Fred Korematsu Story,” which tells “the untold history of the 40-year legal fight to vindicate Korematsu — one that finally turned a civil injustice into a civil rights victory.”

Many students commented that learning about the Fred Korematsu story served as a useful reminder as to why they chose to attend law school, and were grateful to learn about Japanese American’s internment experiences from Mr. Yoshino. Ms. Khan discussed the impact of the struggles and sacrifices of Japanese Americans like Korematsu on contemporary civil rights issues, highlighting the Japanese American community’s support for Muslims and Arab Americans in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. The lunch time event was held at Loyola School of Law, with an audience of about forty students, attorneys, and professionals. The evening event was held at John Marshall Law School, with approximately twenty-five students, attorneys and professionals in attendance.

Staff Attorney Rabya Khan assisted in organizing the event in collaboration with the Japanese American Citizens League, the United People of Color Caucus of the National Lawyers Guild, the Asian American Institute, Loyola School of Law, John Marshall Law School, the student chapters of the National Lawyers Guild, and the Loyola School of Law student groups: Black Law Student Association, the American Constitution Society, the Immigrant Rights Coalition, the Latino Law Student Association, the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association, and the Muslim Law Student Association.

Historical Background:

In February of 1942, in the wake of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, the federal government declared that all people of Japanese ancestry were to be excluded from the Pacific coast of the United States. Approximately 110,000 Japanese Americans and Japanese nationals were forcibly relocated to internment camps. Fred Korematsu refused to obey the order to leave his home, and was arrested and convicted of evading internment. His case was eventually appealed to the US Supreme Court, where the Court ruled that the government’s need to protect against espionage outweighed Korematsu’s rights (Korematsu v. United States, 1944). Justice Black argued that compulsory exclusion,though constitutionally suspect, is justified during circumstances of “emergency and peril.”

In 1983, Professor 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 legal team of mostly Japanese American attorneys re-opened Korematsu’s 40 year-old case on the basis of government misconduct.

On November 10, 1983, Judge Marilyn Hall Patel of the U.S. District Court of Northern California in San Francisco formally overturned Korematsu’s conviction. It was a pivotal moment in U.S. civil rights history. Mr. Korematsu stood in front of Judge Patel and stated, “According to the Supreme Court decision regarding my case, being an American citizen was not enough. They say you have to look like one, otherwise they say you can’t tell a difference between a loyal and a disloyal American. I thought that this decision was wrong and I still feel that way. As long as my record stands in federal court, any American citizen can be held in prison or concentration camps without a trial or a hearing. That is if they look like the enemy of our country. Therefore, I would like to see the government admit that they were wrong and do something about it so this will never happen again to any American citizen of any race, creed or color. ”

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.

In 1998, President Clinton awarded Fred Korematsu the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Fred Korematsu Day is recognized in California as “Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution” and is the first day in U.S. history named after an Asian American. Hawaii recognizes it by state proclamation. The Korematsu Institute is working with community leaders in additional states around the country in order to spread awareness about Fred Korematsu Day. Free Korematsu Teaching Kits are available for order on the Fred Korematsu Institute website.

If interested, there is a similar upcoming event:

Join the Japanese American community in commemorating the 1942 signing of Executive Order 9066. This event will be free and open to the public.

When: Sunday, February 17, 2013 from 2 pm- 4 pm.: Japanese American Day of Remembrance

Where: Chicago History Museum, 1601 N. Clark Street