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Korematsu and Civil Liberties (film)


Documentary video focusing on the collision of security concerns and civil liberties as illustrated by theWorld War II roundup of Japanese Americans and the Korematsu Supreme Court case.

Commissioned by the Annenberg Foundation Trust as part of the "The Constitution Project," Korematsu and Civil Liberties was made by The Documentary Group. After introducing the core question—what legal scholar Geoffrey R. Stone calls the country's "challenge to protect itself while adhering to values of free society"—the first half of the video briefly explores the run up to mass removal after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the prewar history of anti-Japanese sentiment in the U.S., the split between the Justice and War Departments on the decision to remove all Japanese Americans from the West Coast, and life in the concentration camps. The second half turns to Fred Korematsu 's story and his legal case, with much of discussion focusing on a discussion of the Supreme Court majority decision by Hugo Black and the three dissenting opinions. A final segment explores the coram nobis cases , the Redress Movement , and Korematsu's subsequent life, as well as the legacy of the case. Made in a more or less conventional fashion by writer/producer/narrator Robe Imbriano (no director is credited), Korematsu and Civil Liberties is distinguished by an unusually illustrious group of interviewees that includes Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer and Anthony Kennedy along with top historians and legal scholars as well as the use of some animated graphics to accompany the usual archival footage and photographs.

Korematsu and Civil Liberties is part of the Annenberg Classroom of the Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics, a set of resources for civics education and is available online. It is also part of a related lesson plan by Linda Weber titled "When National Security Trumps Individual Rights."

Though the history presented is largely accurate, there are a few small misstatements.

• 7:10: Stephen Breyer, in citing Earl Warren 's support for mass removal, claims that Warren later said "it was the greatest mistake he ever made." While Warren did later express regret for his actions in his memoir, there is no record of his ever having said it was his "greatest mistake."

• 11:00: Cites 120,000 people as having been evicted; the 120,000 figure is the total number who came under War Relocation Authority jurisdiction, including some 6,000 babies born in the concentration camps and others who entered the camps later. The number forcibly removed from the West Coast was closer to 110,000.

• 11:23: Claims that "evacuation took almost 18 months"; the first exclusion order was issued at the end of March 1942 and the last in mid-August, so it was closer to five months. Even if one includes the roundup of Issei community leaders beginning on Dec. 7, 1941, it would be less than ten months.

• 14:28: Claims that it was a felony for any Japanese American to remain on the West Coast after exclusion; although Karl Bendetsen , the key architect of the roundup advocated making such resistance a felony, Public Law 503 ultimately made the offense a misdemeanor.

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

Might also like Of Civil Wrongs and Rights: The Fred Korematsu Story (2000); A Personal Matter: Gordon Hirabayashi vs. the United States (1992); Unfinished Business: The Japanese American Internment Cases (1985)

Media Details
Release Date 2012
Runtime 27 minutes
Producer Robe Imbriano
Writer Robe Imbriano
Narrator Robe Imbriano
Starring Akhil Amar (interviewee), Frank Wu (interviewee), Stephen Breyer (interviewee), Anthony Kennedy (interviewee), Geoffrey Stone (interviewee), John Ferren (interviewee), Gary Okihiro (interviewee), Naoko Shibusawa (interviewee), Kermit Roosevelt (interviewee), Norman Mineta (interviewee), John Tateishi (interviewee), Karen Korematsu-Haigh (interviewee), Jan Crawford Greenburg (interviewee), Dale Minami
Music Ben Decter
Cinematography Dave Dellaria
Editing Marc Tidalgo
Studio Annenberg Foundation Trust