The Asian Law Caucus officially launched the Fred T. Korematsu Institute for Civil Rights and Education at the organization’s annual event on April 30 in San Francisco. Minami Tamaki LLP was a sponsor of the event.
“The Institute will play a role in a new era of collaborative efforts to further secure the rights of all people of color,” said Karen Korematsu-Haigh, Korematsu’s daughter. “We want to develop and support a new generation of ambassadors of justice that embody my father’s courage and conviction.”
The Korematsu Institute will advance the cause of Asian American civil rights and human rights through pan-Asian American alliances and programs that focus on education, activism and leadership.
“Fred Korematsu’s eventual court victory taught America about the fragility of civil rights especially during times of international tensions,” said partner Don Tamaki a member of Korematsu’s legal team. “It reinforced our belief that civil rights must be fought for and are not simply guaranteed by the courts or by any governmental institution.”
The April event honored the Korematsu coram nobis legal team, including Lorraine Bannai, Marjie Barrows, Dennis Hayashi, Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga, Peter Irons, Karen Kai, Donna Komure, MT partner Dale Minami, Leigh-Ann Miyasato, Robert Rusky, Tamaki, Akira Togasaki and Eric Yamamoto. Other honorees included the Akonadi Foundation and its founders Quinn Delaney and Wayne Jordan; and Jason Lee, Holly Tate, Christopher Watson and Gavin Masuda of Latham & Watkins LLP.
“In the long history of our country’s constant search for justice, some names of ordinary citizens stand for millions of souls … Plessy, Brown, Parks. To that distinguished list, today we add the name of Fred Korematsu,” said President Bill Clinton in January 1998 in awarding Korematsu the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
During World War II, Korematsu was a 22-year-old welder in Oakland, Calif., who defied military orders that ultimately led to the internment of 110,000 Japanese Americans, including Korematsu and his family who were removed from their homes, held first in the Tanforan Race Track Assembly Center in San Bruno, Calif., and then incarcerated in the Topaz internment camp in Utah.
He took his challenge to the military orders to the U.S. Supreme Court, which, in 1944, upheld his conviction on the ground that the removal of Japanese Americans was justified by “military necessity.” That decision has been widely condemned as one of the darkest chapters in American legal history.
After four decades of having to live with a “disloyalty” conviction on his record that limited him from securing full-time work, Korematsu filed suit to reopen his case on proof that the government, when arguing his case during the war, had suppressed, altered, and destroyed material evidence that contradicted the government’s claim of military necessity.
In 1984 – 25 years ago – the Federal District Court for the Northern District of California granted his petition for a writ of coram nobis (a notice of error) and vacated his conviction.
Korematsu went on to champion the cause of civil liberties, not only seeking redress for Japanese Americans who were wrongfully interned, but also traveling the country to advocate for the civil rights of other victims of excessive government action, especially after 9/11.
Korematsu passed away in March 2005 at the age of 86.
Korematsu’s case remains a testament to the importance of preventing the erosion of civil liberties in the cause of national security.
“Fred Korematsu stood up not only for his own civil rights, but for all Americans and demanded that all Americans be protected by the inalienable rights set forth in our Constitution,” said Titi Liu, executive director of the Asian Law Caucus, the nation’s oldest legal and civil rights organization serving low-income Asian Pacific American communities.
In a post-9/11 nation where national security policies are based on fear and prejudice, the Institute is dedicated to impacting the national discourse on national security policies by building alliances that foster understanding among different minority communities whose rights have been threatened by religious and racial profiling.