Lead Lawyer in WWII Japanese Internment Case Honored

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Dale Minami speaks on Thursday/ photo by Josh Kaizuka

Davis Elementary School Named After Civil Rights Hero

by Cres Vellucci

History, as is said, has a nasty habit of repeating itself. And, legal pioneer Dale Minami was sure to remind everyone of that at the Asian Bar Association of Sacramento Law Foundation’s “Empowering the Community and Educating the Public through Law” event here last week (May 25).

Mr. Minami is no stranger to “impact” lawsuits – as he likes to call them – and fighting in the courts for equal justice. He was the lead lawyer in a 1980s effort to overturn the wartime conviction of Fred Korematsu and others, who unsuccessfully opposed the internment of nearly 130,000 Japanese Americans in World War II simply because of their ancestry.

(Editor’s Note: Davis is home to the Fred T. Korematsu Elementary School at Mace Ranch)

“It is up to us (the legal community) to stand up. We cannot let African Americans (or) Muslims be victims” of that kind of racism, he said. Mr. Minami explained that while the “courts failed us” in the World War II years, the courts “today have said the President is not above the law,” in reference to President Trump’s attempted ban on immigration from some Muslim countries – overturned repeatedly now by the courts.

Calling the 1942 relocation of Japanese Americans a “civil rights disaster,” Mr. Minami recounted to the ABAS attendees his team’s attempt to clear Mr. Korematsu’s name, noting that “we cannot repeat history and let it (wartime violations of civil rights) happen again.”

Mr. Korematsu lost his original case and appeal in 1944, spent the remainder of the war in a relocation camp and felt a “burden” that his case was in part responsible for the internment of Japanese Americans, explained Mr. Minami.

It wasn’t until 1982 that Mr. Minami and his team filed in federal court to overturn Korematsu’s conviction after San Diego State professor Peter Irons uncovered evidence that the U.S. prosecutor in Korematsu v. U.S. had deliberately suppressed FBI and military reports that Japanese Americans posed no security threat.

FBI Chief and spymaster J. Edgar Hoover even advised against the internment, and reports of Japanese messages being overheard were not, as originally claimed by the military, between Japanese on the shore to ships at sea but were instead conversations from Japan, heard an ocean away.

The U.S. military at the time and government lawyers had lied to the U.S. Supreme Court, which had ruled – based on what the court had been told – there was an imminent wartime threat and thus the internment was legal in 1942. A decision that harkens back to post 9/11 and to this day through comments from Trump and his administration.

Judge Marilyn Hall Patel formally vacated Korematsu’s conviction in U.S. District Court in San Francisco on Nov. 10, 1982 – Korematsu reportedly quipped, “If anyone should do the pardoning, I should be pardoning the government for what they did to the Japanese American people,” while warning that “this (should) never happen again to any American citizen of race, creed and color.”

Mr. Minami noted that he helped form an Asian legal organization in the 1970s, filing against injustice “whenever I could. We used sword and shield litigation, to bring in the community, educate, help organize.” His suits have been against the likes of the government, big insurance companies,  and other “maximum impact” targets.

CA Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, in brief comments introducing Mr. Minami,  said she was “moved and inspired” when, as a University of California at Davis law student, she studied the Korematsu case.

Ms. Cantil-Sakauye then asked Mr. Minami: “How many times can you be named ‘super lawyer’?” She praised his legal battles against Big Pharma and government.

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5 thoughts on “Lead Lawyer in WWII Japanese Internment Case Honored”

    1. David Greenwald

      I consider this post to be disrespectful of what took place both the work of Fred Korematsu in fighting a grave in justice here in California and the US during WWII and the work of Dale Minami in finally getting the WWII decision overturned. People in this community both lived in the internment camps and have relatives who did.

  1. Tia Will

    I see this the use of race as a defining characteristic of who should and should not be treated differently as very relevant currently. Not only can it be applied to the individuals affected by the Muslim ban, but can also be applied to individuals who have or whose parents came from countries south of our border. When Canadians cross our border and overstay their visas, we do not hear a hue and cry to have them removed and they apparently do it on a large scale as well.

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