Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Lorraine Bannai Interview
Narrator: Lorraine Bannai
Interviewers: Margaret Chon (primary), Alice Ito (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: March 23 & 24, 2000
Densho ID: denshovh-blorraine-01-0033

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MC: I know that you undertook a very extensive public education and media campaign in conjunction with the litigation effort. Can you comment on that a little bit?

LB: We felt from the very, very beginning of the litigation that a public education effort was just as important as the legal effort. Obviously in taking on this case, it was important that we be good lawyers, that we win the case, that we conduct our discovery, that we engage in drafting pleadings, that we do all of the things that were necessary to win in court, but in addition, we felt really strongly from day one that the most important court was not the court of law, but it was the court of public opinion. And to that end, we felt it very important to get out there into the public, to tell people about the internment and about the suppression of evidence, about what we had found in the documents, so that people would be educated about this terrible miscarriage of justice that happened during World War II.

And the reason we felt that way was because, you can change a law through the legislature, you might be able to win a case in a court, but if the will of the people seeks to do this again, if there's a popular uprising to intern a group of people based on race or to round up people who are HIV-positive or whatever, if there's a popular will to do it, those laws can be changed, and they're simply pieces of paper. So it became very important to make sure that there was a heightened public awareness about what had happened, so that people could know that they had a role in making sure that this would not happen again. And to that end, we participated in speaking all over the country. Again, we spoke at colleges and universities and JACL meetings and youth group meetings, Lions Club meetings, everywhere we could go to try and talk about the issue of the internment and about the cases that we were working on. And we were amazingly received. People are really shocked to hear about the internment. It's shocking to me that people don't know about it even today, and wherever we went, we were received by people saying, "Yes. I remember that. It was a horrible time." Or, "I can't believe that that happened. I can't believe people let that happen." And I think that as a result of the redress effort in general, there's a tremendously heightened public awareness about the internment, and that that will go a long ways towards making sure that this won't happen again.

MC: The coram nobis teams actually won all three cases, the Portland and Seattle and San Francisco teams all managed to have the convictions vacated. Do you think the judges in all of these three different courts may have been influenced by the public education effort?

LB: Hmm. You know, I really can't say. I mean, my sense about it is they may not have been specifically influenced by our public education effort, but certainly legal commentators and Con. Law scholars for years and years have denounced the Korematsu opinion as a civil liberties disaster. I can't imagine that any of those judges could sit through reading the case in Constitutional Law and not come to their own decision that there was a great miscarriage of justice. So while they might not have been influenced by our particular effort, certainly any reasonable person familiar with the case could have decided on their own that a wrong had been committed.

MC: I'd like to go back a little bit to how it was to work with Fred as a client through all of this. You had described earlier a little bit about meeting with him to present the possibility of representing him, and him agreeing to that. Throughout the course of the litigation, what was the quality of your, your interactions with him like?

LB: He was a wonderful client, and we developed a wonderful relationship with him. He and his wife became like surrogate parents to all of us. Certainly Kathryn was always worried about whether we were getting enough sleep and whether we had enough to eat. They, I think, grew to be quite fond of us, and we grew to be quite fond of them. Fred was a really supportive, encouraging client. He trusted our opinion. Again, I think he might have started out a little skeptical about us because we were so young, but I think that he quickly grew to trust us and rely on us, and felt very positively about the energy that the team had, and certainly, began to really trust the skill and the ability of the members of the team.

We certainly consulted with him every step of the way. It was an unusual situation because we had a client, Fred Korematsu, and as a lawyer, your first obligation is to your client. And so certainly he was the person who would make the ultimate decisions in the case, with our advice and counsel. But it was also an unusual case because aside from having Fred as a client, we in some ways had the entire Japanese American community as a client because this case, for us at least, represented the trial that they never had. Certainly as lawyers, we never let our concerns about how the community would feel about the case get in the way of our representation of our client. Fortunately, there was never any deviation between what Fred wanted and what we wanted to do politically. So it was a really wonderful working relationship that continues to this day. We still go out and do speaking engagements with him. We still get together at fundraising events and dinners, and I have just such tremendous regard for him.

MC: Terrific.

<End Segment 33> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.