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Standing Up Against Injustice: We Honor the Courage of Gordon Hirabayashi

Gordon Hirabayashi, a son of Japanese immigrants, was a senior at University of Washington when bombs fell at Pearl Harbor. Like 112,000 of his fellow Japanese Americans, he would be placed under curfew, ordered into internment, and finally jailed for defying those orders. Forty years later, with the help of volunteer attorneys and the ACLU of Washington, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated his conviction. On Monday, Hirabayashi died at the age of 93. We here at the ACLU of Washington honor his memory. Hirabayahsi’s refusal to register for internment or comply with curfew orders challenged the wartime powers of President Franklin Roosevelt. In 1942, FDR signed an executive order allowing Japanese Americans to be forcibly removed from the West Coast and relocated to detention camps – solely on the basis of their race. The treatment was unconstitutional, and the conditions at the camps were harsh, cramped, and isolated. In Hirabayashi’s own words, “My citizenship didn’t protect me one bit. Our Constitution was reduced to a scrap of paper.” Like Fred Korematsu who disputed the legality of internment camps in California and Minoru Yasui who took on racially discriminatory curfews in Oregon, Hirabayashi bravely defended his rights at a time of widespread fear and bigotry. Represented by future ACLU-WA board member Arthur Barnett and with funding from national ACLU director Roger Baldwin, Hirabayashi challenged the government actions in court as abridgement of his constitutional rights. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1943 supported the government’s policies as justified by military necessity, and Hirabayashi spent a total of nine months in jail. Forty years later, he sought legal redress. A hearing showed that the U.S. Department of War in 1943 suppressed numerous official reports from the FBI and the Navy that Japanese Americans posed no threat to national security. In 1986 and 1987, the U.S. District Court in Seattle and then federal appeals court overturned both of Hirabayashi’s convictions. Hirabayashi remained a voice for justice and fairness throughout his life. When the ACLU-WA moved its quarters to the Hoge Building in 1990, we were proud to have him speak as the honored guest at our office-warming event. On February 11th, 2012, you have the opportunity to celebrate his victory on the 25th anniversary of the final Hirabayashi v. United States decision at a conference organized by the Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality at Seattle University and co-sponsored by the ACLU-WA. The event will honor Hirabayashi's courage in resisting military orders, reflect on the Supreme Court ruling upholding his convictions, and commemorate the work of his legal team who reopened the case long after World War II had ended. For more information, please contact Junsen Ohno, Korematsu Center Administrator, (206) 398-4283,

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