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Title: Gordon Hirabayashi Interview V
Narrator: Gordon Hirabayashi
Interviewers: Tom Ikeda (primary), Alice Ito (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: May 4, 2000
Densho ID: denshovh-hgordon-05-0015

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: Well, how did you hear about the ruling? Where were you? How was it communicated to you?

GH: Well, I was in Spokane. And I knew some people, and I talked to some about the nature of the decisions. And they didn't know, you know, some of these technicalities. They didn't realize that the decision was made just on curfew, even though I had two cases with the same guilty verdict.

TI: And who communicated this to you? Did one of the lawyers give you a call?

GH: Eventually I heard from my lawyers in Seattle. So they're not right there. And they're trying to find out, 'cause the decisions came and they get the result. But they, they have to make certain kinds of surmising to determine what were the crucial factors. The way it was, it was, unanimously there was one vacancy, so eight-to-nothing against me in the curfew case. And the other case was, was not, in fact, it was, they were not, they were not allowed to handle the other case because the law specifies that you only handle cases that are required to satisfy the sentence that's involved. In my case, since they were concurrent sentences, it was determined that only one, one of these is necessary, and that, that was the curfew. They found the curfew one easier to do, to uphold. And on that, they passed it with three, what you would call demurrers, demurrers, which means there were three who felt moved to write certain qualifications, going with the majority but qualifying that it's under these circumstances and...

TI: Can you recall those three qualifications?

GH: I think, I think they had to do with the fact of whether, I think justice, justice would be exercised in times of war. See that, that's a variable that's very difficult to determine. Theoretically you say well, that has nothing to do with it. Where was the Constitution? Constitution was not suspended, so it should have been operating, war or not. So where are we? But they made certain qualifications about, about that. And I think, the only thing I could say at the time is that they qualified it to some extent, but not, not to make a negative decision. However, two of those, something like eighteen months later in the Korematsu case when that finally got up to the Supreme Court, it was on, it was on the same principles, but on the exclusion order rather than curfew, the one I didn't get. And, and on that they had three, it was six to three. So there were, there were two factors operating there. One, the demurrers, they felt it went over. It not only went to the brink of constitutionality, it went over. And for exclusion order it went over. That's one factor. Second, was discussing curfew versus exclusion order, well, the principles are the same. It was both based on ancestry. They felt it was not, the three people who voted negative, felt that, that was going too far, to uproot people and so on. Curfew was simply a restriction: confined to the home during certain hours. Not, that's the only, it was primarily restriction. You had to get special permit. And then the fact that only, only one, one of those people whose ancestry was at war, not himself -- see, see, I'm an American citizen, only, we were at war with my ancestors.

TI: Right. Now, the question, I guess, as you're talking, that I'm thinking about is, here you have the Supreme Court, as you said, is there to uphold the Constitution, to rule on things dealing with constitutional issues. And your stand has been that as a United States citizen you have certain constitutional rights. And so the highest court of law has ruled against you. That must have shook you, because so much of your stand was based on the U.S. Constitution. How did you grapple with that as an individual after the ruling came down?

GH: Well, it was, it was disappointing. I think we, we have to admit that. It was disappointing, and for a while I thought the Constitution failed me. Then it occurred to me that it wasn't necessarily the Constitution that failed me, it was the people who were placed in the responsibility of upholding the Constitution. People, these are nine people, and for a variety of reasons they came to their decision. And in my view they made an error. They made an error, but, and forty years later my views were upheld. It was reversed. Nothing was changed in, in terms of what happened to us. I mean, and there's no way in which we could rectify that. But injustice took place and the nation said they made an error. There's nothing much you could do beyond that except to take that to heart and try to make sure that it doesn't happen again. I think, I think we're involved in that sort of thing when the issue comes up about the Rape of Nanking.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.