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When National Security Trumps Individual Rights (curricula)

Creators: Linda Weber, Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics


This lesson prompts students to think about the balance of civil liberties and national security during times of national crisis by considering the Supreme Court case of Korematsu v. United States (1944). Fred Toyosaburo Korematsu fought against the mass removal of Japanese Americans during World War II by refusing to report to the Tanforan Assembly Center in 1942. He challenged his felony conviction on constitutional grounds, and the case was appealed to the Supreme Court where he lost in a 6-3 decision. In 1983, this conviction was vacated after information surfaced proving that the government had originally withheld critical evidence.

The lesson targets middle school/high school civics and/or government classes. The estimated time for this lesson is three days and it presumes that students have some prior experience analyzing Supreme Court cases. All materials (video, readings, handouts) necessary for the lesson are either included or are linked to in this 82-page PDF file. Some technology is required to view a video online or via a DVD. Information presented in this document is clearly written and thorough; "Snapshot of Lesson" on the front page is a useful tool for teachers as it provides an outline of all the materials/equipment and learning activities.

Organizing questions supported by this lesson:

I. What are civic life, politics, and government?

II. What are the foundations of the American political system?

III. How does the government established by the Constitution embody the purposes, values, and principles of American democracy?

IV. What is the relationship of the United States to other nations and to world affairs?

V. What are the roles of the citizen in American democracy?

Targeted outcomes: Students will . . .

1. Identify cause-and-effect relationships between historical events, governmental decisions, and changes in society.

2. Explain the lessons learned about civil liberties from Korematsu v. United States

3. Identify the distribution of war powers as set forth in the Constitution.

4. Make observations and conclusions about the responsibilities and functions of government during wartime.

5. Appreciate the impact that one citizen can have when justice is pursued under the Constitution.

The three parts of the lesson include:

Day 1: Justice Lost; Justice Found; Justice Pending – Students view video Korematsu and Civil Liberties (27-minutes, Annenberg Foundation Trust) to learn about how during World War II, Japanese Americans lost their civil liberties in favor or national security.

Day 2: Chronology Tells the Story – Students complete a chronology of events to further analyze and build understanding about the government's decision to incarcerate Japanese Americans during World War II.

Day 3: Lessons in Civil Liberties from Korematsu v. United States (1944) – Students examine the text of Korematsu v. United States to create a case profile and determine lessons about civil liberties supporting their reasoning with quotes from the record.

This lesson also includes a vocabulary list, suggested extension activities, a list of national academic standards for civics and government, and links to additional resources (video, readings, primary sources).

Authored by Janet Hayakawa , Densho
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