Law free essays: Security vs. Liberty
Security vs. Liberty
Korematsu v. the United States 1944 Case Background
The constitution of the US recognizes that individuals’ rights to liberty should always be respected except in specific situations, such as when a person commits a crime or is found to have a communicable disease. In the past, however, there are instances in which individuals and groups of people have been denied the right to liberty based on security concerns that are not identified explicitly in the constitution. A good example was the case in 1942 when President Franklin Roosevelt issued an order (executive order number 34) that allowed the US military prevent individuals of Japanese ancestry from residing in, or accessing, areas that were perceived to be critical to the security of the US citizens. Subsequently, the military banned all individuals of Japanese ancestry from accessing the coastal area from Southern Arizona stretching to the Washington state. The individuals of Japanese descent who lived in that region were compelled to live in internment camps elsewhere.
One of the individuals of Japanese descent who had been born in the US called Mr. Fred Korematsu, refused to move from his residence that was located within the restricted area. Consequently, the military sued Mr. Korematsu in court for failing to adhere to the executive order. When Mr. Korematsu was found guilty of failing to obey the order, he appealed. Eventually, his case reached the bench of the US Supreme Court in 1944. The title of the case is Korematsu v. United States 1944. The decision held by the Supreme Court triggered a debate that has been ongoing until today regarding whether or not individuals should be denied right to liberty in situations where granting the right would threaten public security. In my view, public security should be given priority to individuals’ right to liberty, but there must be adequate proof to show that granting the right to liberty would threaten public security to avoid issues such as racial discrimination.
The Court Decision
In the Korematsu v. United States, 1944, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of Mr. Korematsu. Out of the nine justices on the court, six supported the conviction of Mr. Korematsu and three dissented. The judgment was delivered by Justice Hugo Black. When presenting the court decision, Justice Black acknowledged that any restrictions that are targeted at people of a particular racial group raise suspicious concerns and thus, they need to be subjected to thorough scrutiny by the courts. However, Justice Black explained that such restrictions are not always unconstitutional. Also, Justice Black acknowledged that the restriction by the US military caused hardships on the individuals of Japanese descent, but explained that hardships are always part of war. The court ruled that given the fact that the US was in a war situation and was threatened by major external forces, the executive branch of the government was justified to make the decision to restrict people of Japanese descent from accessing specific areas.
The court accepted the argument of the U.S military that the individuals of Japanese ancestry gave loyalty more to Japan than to the United States and thus, they would have contributed in supporting Japanese army to fight against the Americans. The court also accepted that due to logistical reasons and time restriction, it was difficult to distinguish between the individuals of the Japanese descent who were loyal to Japan and those who were not. Thus, the executive order was to apply to all people of Japanese descent who resided within the area that was restricted. After considering the war situation and balancing between public security threat and the need to respect the rights to liberty for the individuals of Japanese descent, the court ruled that the public security concern outweighed the need to respect individuals’ right to liberty. Justice Black stated that Mr. Korematsu was being evicted from his home not because of hostility towards him but because of necessity.
A concurring decision was given by Justice Felix Frankfurter during the case ruling process. Justice Frankfurter started by stating that Mr. Korematsu was guilty of disobeying the executive order that required him to move away from the restricted area. He then explained that the constitution of the US gave the president and the Congress powers to take any reasonable action to protect the US citizens during the time of war. He quoted previous cases, namely Home Bldg. & L. Assn. v. Blaisdell and Hirabayashi v. the United States, supra, in which it was acknowledged that the executive branch of the government had the powers to take actions to that would help to enhance the security of the Americans during the time of war. Thus, he argued that the validity of the executive order given by President Roosevelt was supposed to be judged with consideration to the context of war. According to Justice Frankfurter, the executive order and the subsequent military action would be judged as lawless if there was peace. Justice Frankfurter stated that the executive order was part of the business of the executive branch of the government and the judiciary had limited power to interfere with it since there was no violation of the constitution.
Dissenting opinions in the case were given by Justices Robert Jackson, Owen Roberts and Frank Murphy. Justice Jackson argued that a military order should only have effect during the time of emergency and not beyond that. He argued that the executive order would have effects beyond the period of war if the Supreme Court made a ruling that supported the eviction of Mr. Korematsu by the military. According to Justice Jackson, ruling in support of the military action and the executive order given by President Roosevelt validated racial discrimination principle in the criminal procedure since the ruling would be relied upon in other cases in the future. Although Justice Jackson acknowledged that the government could take actions to protect the citizens during the time of war, he insisted that the court should not have made a decision that was against respecting rights to liberty. Justice Roberts opined that Mr. Korematsu was being punished because of his race or ancestral origin without any proof regarding whether he was loyal to Japan or the US. Justice Murphy argued that the decision to evict and restrict the Japanese was based on insinuations, half-truths, and disinformation and it was influenced by prejudices against the American Japanese. Justice Murphy raised the concern that people from other countries that were fighting against the US, such as Germany, were not restricted.
In my view, the best decision is the one that was made by Justice Jackson. The executive branch of the government was correct in taking drastic measures to help improve the security of the Americans, but the Supreme Court should not have made a ruling that supported the infringement of the right to liberty since the decision it would become part of law. Instead, the court should have considered the inherent weaknesses in the case and thus, give an alternative ruling. The decision made by the Supreme Court should not be part of the good law since it would support racial discrimination. The law can be used to discriminate people of different races or ethnic groups even when their persona attributes are not considered.
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