History and GovernmentSupreme CourtCases

Korematsu v. United States (1944)

Case Summary

Fred Korematsu refused to obey the wartime order to leave his home and report to a relocation camp for Japanese Americans. He was arrested and convicted. After losing in the Court of Appeals, he appealed to the United States Supreme Court, challenging the constitutionality of the deportation order.

The Court's Decision

The Supreme Court upheld the order excluding persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast war zone during World War II. Three justices dissented.

Justice Hugo Black delivered the opinion of the Court. He began with the observation that legal restrictions on the rights of a single racial group will always be “suspect” and that “courts must subject them to the most rigid scrutiny.” However, they are not necessarily unconstitutional. The exclusion order imposed hardships “upon a large group of American citizens. …But hardships are part of war….Compulsory exclusion of large groups of citizens from their homes, except under circumstances of direst emergency and peril, is inconsistent with our basic governmental institutions. But when under conditions of modern warfare our shores are threatened by hostile forces, the power to protect must be commensurate with the threatened danger.”

Justice Owen Roberts wrote in his dissent that this “is the case of convicting a citizen as a punishment for not submitting to imprisonment in a concentration camp, based on his ancestry, and solely because of his ancestry, without evidence or inquiry concerning his loyalty and good disposition towards the United States.” Justice Robert Jackson noted that comparable burdens were not imposed upon descendents of the other nationalities (German, Italian) with whom the United States was also at war.

More on the Case

After the war, Fred Korematsu continued his efforts to clear his name. The ruling in Korematsu troubled jurists and civil libertarians because it suggested that basic civil rights could give way to prejudice and hysteria. Congress enacted the Japanese American Evacuation Claims Act of 1948 to provide some monetary compensation to citizens who had lost their homes or businesses during the internment. Ultimately, in 1983, Korematsu succeeded in persuading a federal judge in San Francisco to set aside his conviction for violating the wartime order.

Congress reassessed the internment in the early 1980s, and in 1982 and 1983 issued a report called Personal Justice Denied which determined that military considerations had not required the removal of Japanese Americans and concluded that the Korematsu decision had been “overruled in the court of history.” In 1988, Congress issued a formal apology for the suffering and loss of property the internment order had caused, and in 1989 authorized reparations of $20,000 to each of the approximately 60,000 survivors of the internment camps. Many of those who were imprisoned had been farmers in California who were pressured to sell, at rock-bottom prices, land that is now worth millions of dollars. In 1998, President Clinton presented Fred Korematsu with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Source: ©2005 Pearson Education, Inc., publishing as Pearson Prentice Hall. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Information Please®, ©2005 Pearson Education, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

stay connected

Sign up for our free email newsletters and receive the latest advice and information on all things parenting.

Enter your email address to sign up or manage your account.

Facebook icon Twitter icon Follow Us on Pinterest

editor’s picks


Healthy Smile Checklist for Kids
Have better dental check-ups with this free printable checklist that helps keep your child flossing, brushing, and smiling! Brought to you by Philips Sonicare.

Kindergarten Readiness App
It's kindergarten registration time! Use this interactive kindergarten readiness checklist, complete with fun games and activities, to practice the essential skills your child needs for this next big step. Download the Kindergarten Readiness app today!

8 Easter Egg Decorating Ideas
Need some fun ideas for decorating Easter eggs with the kids? Look no further for colorful and cool designs!

7 Ways to Curb Kids' Exposure to Violence
American children are exposed to violence more often than you might think. Learn how to limit your child's exposure to violence and manage the mental health and behavioral effects it can cause.