Literature Study GuidesKorematsu V United States

Korematsu v. United States | Study Guide

United States Supreme Court

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United States Supreme Court

Year Decided



Primary Source


U.S. Supreme Court Case

At a Glance

  • Following the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945) issued Executive Order 9066, the legal basis for the internment within the United States of 120,000 ethnic Japanese. Many of these people were American citizens.
  • Fred Korematsu (1919–2005), an American citizen of Japanese descent, refused to report for transport to an internment camp as required by Citizen Exclusion Order No. 34, a military directive based on Executive Order 9066.
  • Convicted in September 1942 for violating the order, Korematsu accepted the aid of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and sued the U.S. government, alleging the order violated his constitutional rights.
  • In 1944 the Supreme Court affirmed the orders resulted from "pressing public necessity" and did not violate the Constitution.
  • Dissenting justices called the decision racist and warned of the "subtle blow to liberty" resulting from judicial concession to an unconstitutional military order.
  • Although the decision was not unpopular in the 1940s, the credibility of the argument decreased with time. In 1976 President Gerald Ford formally apologized for the policy, and in 1988 Congress approved a $20,000 payment for each surviving person who had been interned. In Trump v. Hawaii (2018), the court finally rejected the Korematsu decision.
  • The case provides insight into potential conflicts between national security and civil liberties and into the scrutiny with which the court must oversee such conflicts.


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