Hirabayashi v. United States

828 F.2d 591 (1987)

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Hirabayashi v. United States

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
828 F.2d 591 (1987)


During World War II, the American military issued orders excluding persons of Japanese heritage from certain areas. Japanese were subjected to a curfew during which they had to remain in their homes. Japanese persons were also required to report to a processing center in preparation for exclusion. Gordon Hirabayashi (plaintiff) was a Japanese American who did not submit to the curfew or present himself for exclusion because he believed these orders to be based on racism and in violation of the United States Constitution. Hirabayashi was convicted of violating both orders, and the conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court on the belief that these orders were a matter of urgent military exigency. However, in 1982, around 40 years after Hirabayashi’s conviction, an original copy of the War Department’s report justifying the treatment of Japanese was discovered. This report, written by General DeWitt, predated the revised report that was presented to the Supreme Court. The original report showed that the curfew and exclusion orders were motivated by racism and not by military exigency. The orders were motivated by the supposed difficulty of distinguishing loyal Japanese citizens and residents from the disloyal. Upon learning of this report, military officials prevailed upon DeWitt to alter the report. Not wanting to hinder the Supreme Court case, DeWitt agreed and made around 55 changes to the report. The War Department sought to eradicate existing copies of the original report. One official wrote a memo certifying that he had overseen the burning of all documents related to the original report. Upon learning of these new documents, which suggested that the factual basis justifying the orders under which Hirabayashi was convicted were based on racism, in 1983, Hirabayashi petitioned for a writ of coram nobis to overturn his convictions. The district court vacated Hirabayashi’s conviction related to the exclusion order. The United States government (defendant) challenged the ruling.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Schroeder, J.)

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