Reading: Legacies of Incarceration: Redress Download Printer Friendly (PDF) File For Reading 6
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The right to due process of law is a constitutional right, as stated in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. The right to redress is a constitutional right, as stated in the First Amendment to the Constitution. Redress is defined as, "n. 1. the setting right of what is wrong: redress of abuses. 2. relief from wrong or injury. 3. compensation or satisfaction from a wrong or injury." Reparation is defined as, "n. 1. the making of amends for wrong or injury done: reparation for an injustice. 2. Usually, reparations. compensation in money, material, labor, etc., payable by a defeated country to another country or to an individual for loss suffered during or as a result of war. 3. restoration to good condition. 4. repair."[1]

Amendments #1, 5, 14 Click here to read the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. Each of these is relevant to the redress movement.

After World War II, some Japanese Americans thought the U.S. government should officially recognize that it had denied their rights and unjustly incarcerated them. Beginning with a few individuals, these efforts grew into a national movement to obtain an apology and compensation from the U.S. government for wrongful actions taken against people of Japanese ancestry during World War II, and to help ensure that such injustices would never be allowed again. Japanese Americans and their supporters sought redress for injustice through all three branches of government, all of which had contributed to the denial of their constitutional rights.

Seattle Evacuation Redress Committee Click here to see a larger image of the Seattle Evacuation Redress Committee which was formed in 1973.

A major result of the redress movement was the federal government's acknowledgment that during World War II, army and government officials used "military necessity" as a false justification for forcing all Japanese Americans out of their homes on the West Coast and putting them in concentration camps. In 1983, the federal Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) stated that, "Executive Order 9066 was not justified by military necessity," and the true causes of the mass removal and incarceration of people of Japanese ancestry, without due process of law, were "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership."[2] This was reaffirmed by the U.S. Congress in its statement that:

"...a grave injustice was done to both citizens and permanent resident aliens of Japanese ancestry by the evacuation, relocation, and internment of civilians during World War II. As the Commission documents, these actions were carried out without adequate security reasons and without any acts of espionage or sabotage documented by the Commission, and were motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership."[3]

May S May S. talks about her initial hesitation in supporting the redress movement. Click here to watch the video clip.
Bert N In this video clip Bert N. talks about rebuilding pride through the redress movement. Click here to watch the video.

Other major results of the redress movement included: an official apology from the federal government acknowledging the injustice of its actions, the repeal of Executive Order 9066, monetary reparations payments to individuals of Japanese ancestry who had been removed from their homes and held in incarceration camps, and the creation of a federal fund for education about the incarceration to prevent similar events. (Note: This reading that you are now viewing is one of the results of the federal fund for education.)

Remembering, organizing, educating, and lobbying

Bringing up painful memories of discrimination and the incarceration was one step toward seeking justice. In 1969, Japanese Americans in Southern California organized a pilgrimage to the Manzanar incarceration camp site. In 1978, Seattle community members held the first Day of Remembrance at Puyallup Fairgrounds, site of the "Camp Harmony Assembly Center."[4] Since then, a Day of Remembrance has been recognized annually on February 19--the anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066--by Japanese Americans and others concerned with civil rights across the nation. It is a time to educate people about this part of U.S. history, and resolve to prevent similar violations of civil liberties. Japanese Americans and others also worked to educate elected officials and persuade them to support some form of redress for the injustices suffered by people of Japanese ancestry during World War II.

Executive Action

One successful effort resulted in President Gerald Ford's repeal of Executive Order 9066 in 1976, thirty-four years after it had been signed. He stated, "We now know what we should have known then--not only was that evacuation wrong, but Japanese-Americans were and are loyal Americans...."[5]

An American Promise Read this proclamation given by President Gerald Ford in 1976, called "An American Promise."

Legislative Branch

Through the 1970s, many individuals and groups worked to build support for redress. In 1970, the national Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) adopted a resolution calling for the federal government to pay monetary reparations to Japanese Americans excluded from the West Coast and incarcerated in concentration camps. While passing federal redress legislation seemed impossible to many people, others organized to make it happen. The Seattle Evacuation Redress Committee (of the Seattle Chapter, JACL), the National Council for Japanese American Redress and the National Coalition for Redress/Reparations were among many groups that built the redress movement. By 1973, the Seattle activists had devised the first concrete redress proposal, which became known as the "Seattle Plan." It proposed monetary payments to individuals affected by Executive Order 9066. Monetary payments were central to the federal redress legislation that eventually passed.[6]

Rather than trying to immediately pass legislation entailing payments to individuals, Senator Daniel Inouye suggested forming a commission to study the government's treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II. The Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) was formed in 1980 by an act of Congress. The CWRIC gathered thousands of pages of evidence from government and military records. In 1981 it held hearings in ten cities across the country at which hundreds of Japanese Americans testified about their experiences. Key government personnel involved in the development and implementation of Executive Order 9066 also testified. The Commission concluded that the "relocation and internment" had been unjustified and recommended that the government issue an apology and make monetary compensation to individuals.[7]

Mako N Click here to watch a video clip of Mako N. as she remembers one man's devastating story from the Commission hearings.
Angus M Read these selected quotes from Angus M.'s interview, in which he talks about lessons from the incarceration and the redress movement.

After years of struggle and a massive lobbying campaign by Japanese American individuals, community organizations, and their supporters, the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on August 10, 1988. It authorized payments of $20,000 to each person who was incarcerated (and who was still alive as of August 10, 1988). It also authorized $50 million to create the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund, which was intended to fund research and education about the incarceration so as to prevent similar injustices in the future. In 1990, the oldest surviving Japanese Americans were the first recipients of redress from the federal government in the form of a check and an apology signed by President George Bush. The apology read, in part, "A monetary sum and words alone cannot restore lost years or erase painful memories.... We can never fully right the wrongs of the past. But we can take a clear stand for justice and recognize that serious injustices were done to Japanese Americans during World War II."[8]

Apology Letter Click here to see a larger version of this apology letter issued by President Bush in 1992.

Judicial Branch: Court Cases

Class action lawsuit: Hohri v. United States
William Minoru Hohri was born in San Francisco in 1927, and incarcerated in Manzanar during World War II. In 1979 he co-founded the National Council on Japanese American Redress (NCJAR) and was active in the redress movement. In 1983, William Hohri and NCJAR filed a class action suit on behalf of all incarceration camp survivors. The camp survivors claimed injuries including "summary removal from their homes, imprisonment in racially segregated prison camps, and mass deprivations of their constitutional rights" by the government. The suit listed a number of additional legal injuries the government had caused, and asked that each class member be awarded damages of $10,000 for each violation. These claims could have resulted in a total award of $27.5 billion.[9] The case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which sent it to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, where it was ultimately dismissed in 1988. Even so, the case was a significant part of the redress movement as it increased national visibility for the issues and evidence of injustice, along with the huge potential damage awards that the government might have become responsible for paying.

Coram nobis petitions
In 1983, the legal cases of Korematsu, Hirabayashi and Yasui (see readings, "Prelude to Incarceration" and "The Question of Loyalty") were reopened. Each man had been convicted of failing to follow government or military orders during World War II. Their cases were reopened by petitioning the courts, with evidence discovered in the 1980s, that during World War II the government had suppressed, altered, and destroyed evidence showing there was no military necessity or risk to national security that justified the "evacuation," "relocation" and related orders applied to Japanese Americans. The convictions were "vacated" (or nullified) by the courts.

Lorraine B In this video clip, Lorraine B. talks about the significance of the coram nobis cases. Click here to watch the video.

A question still exists about the constitutionality of the mass relocation and incarceration of people of Japanese ancestry during World War II. In her opinion on the Korematsu coram nobis case, District Judge Marilyn Patel wrote:

"Korematsu remains on the pages of our legal and political history ... As historical precedent it stands as a constant caution that in times of war or declared military necessity our institutions must be vigilant in protecting constitutional guarantees. It stands as a caution that in times of distress the shield of military necessity and national security must not be used to protect governmental actions from close scrutiny and accountability. It stands as a caution that in times of international hostility and antagonisms our institutions, legislative, executive and judicial, must be prepared to exercise their authority to protect all citizens from the petty fears and prejudices that are so easily aroused."[10]

Although Fred Korematsu's criminal conviction was nullified, the U.S. Supreme Court's 1944 decision in Korematsu v. United States remains as a legal and historical precedent that can still be used to justify denying people's constitutional rights on the basis of their race or ancestry.

1. Random House Compact Unabridged Dictionary, Special Second Edition, (New York: Random House, Inc., 1996) p. 1617 and p. 1632.
2. Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, Personal Justice Denied (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997) p. 459.
3. Public Law 100-383. See Eric K. Yamamoto, et al., Race Rights and Reparation: Law and the Japanese American Internment (New York: Aspen Law & Business, 2001), pp. 407-408.
4. Robert Sadamu Shimabukuro, Born in Seattle: The Campaign for Japanese American Redress (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001), pp. 41-49.
5. Proclamation 4417, "An American Promise." See Eric K. Yamamoto, et al., Race, Rights and Reparation: Law and the Japanese American Internment (New York: Aspen Law & Business, 2001), p. 400.
6. Robert Sadamu Shimabukuro, Born in Seattle: The Campaign for Japanese American Redress (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001), pp. 16-18.
7. Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, Personal Justice Denied (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997) pp. 459-464.
8. Mitchell T. Maki, et al., Achieving the Impossible Dream: How Japanese Americans Obtained Redress (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999) pp. 213-214.
9. William Minoru Hohri, Repairing America (Pullman: Washington State University Press, 1988), p. 191.
10. Korematsu v. United States, 584 F. Supp.1406 (N.D. Cal. 1984). See also, Eric K. Yamamoto, et al., Race, Rights and Reparation: Law and the Japanese American Internment (New York: Aspen Law & Business, 2001), pp. 329-330.


  • Why do you think Congress decided to approve redress legislation including a written apology and monetary payments?
  • What motivated Japanese Americans and others to undertake something as difficult as seeking redress from the government?
  • Why do you think the redress movement didn't happen earlier?
  • Do you think it was significant that all three branches of government took action addressing the government's actions during World War II? Why or why not?
  • What implications might District Judge Marilyn Patel's statement have for us today?

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