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Korematsu v. United States (1944)

The Court ruled that the forced internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, authorized by Executive Order 9066, was a constitutional exercise of government power during a time of “emergency and peril” for the country. Justice Hugo Black, writing for the majority, explained that the internments had “a definite and close relationship to the prevention of espionage and sabotage.” He went on to explain that the government needed to act quickly in wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor. “There was evidence of disloyalty on the part of some, the military authorities considered that the need for action was great, and time was short.”

The stinging dissent described the government action as “fall[ing] into the ugly abyss of racism….[racial discrimination] is unattractive in any setting but it is utterly revolting among a free people who have embraced the principles set forth in the Constitution of the United States.

The decision challenged American constitutional principles including checks and balances, equality, individual rights, and majority rule versus minority rights.