Documents: World War II
Some people argued that the Japanese Americans who were interned were denied their liberty and property without due process of law as required by the U. S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment. The Supreme Court however, in Korematsu v United States in 1944 upheld the constitutionality of the Japanese internment as a wartime measure. In 1988, Congress passed and President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act in which the nation officially apologized for the internment, and the U. S. paid each of sixty thousand Japanese American survivors $20,000 to compensate them for their lost liberty and property.
The law contained four important components: (1) authorized up to 52 weeks of unemployment compensation at $20 per week with adjusted compensation for self-employed veterans restoring themselves in business rather than seeking jobs from others; (2) guaranteed 50 percent of loans up to $2,000 to veterans with interest not more than 4 percent to purchase a home or a business; (3) authorized $500 million for construction of additional veterans’ facilities, including hospitals; and (4) authorized allowances for four years of individual grants of $500 a year for training and education, plus monthly subsistence of $50 a month for single and $75 a month for married veterans. As commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the legislation in 2004 was given: “Representative Christopher Smith (R-New Jersey), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, remarked … that “the original GI Bill of Rights ‘produced 450,000 engineers, 238,000 teachers, 91,000 scientists, 67,000 doctors, 22,000 dentists, and another one-million college-educated men and women.” He noted that “another five million men and women received other schooling or training on the GI Bill, helping to create the modern middle class.” Before the GI Bill, the great majority of Americans were renters. Now, most Americans live in their own homes. Half of the college students who used the GI Bill came from homes where neither of their parents had attended college, changing the face of higher education.
Supreme Court Cases
By a 6-0 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that the President’s action was a constitutional exercise of government power during a time of “emergency and peril” for the nation. Writing for the majority, Justice Hugo Black 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. Black wrote: “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.”
One of the dissenting justices wrote that he dissented “from this legalization of racism” and went on to assert that 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.”