Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
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-05-0017

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: So the Supreme Court decision came down. And so at that point the appeal process ran out, and so your sentence would then be in effect. What happened next?

GH: Well, when, when that happened, I thought, "Well, at some point there ought to be another hearing. This isn't acceptable." But how do you get a hearing once the Supreme Court has decided? I mean, that's the final body, final appeal. I didn't know the answer to that. In the meantime, we were working on various other kinds of equality statement that we have adopted to one extent or the other. We're battling to get it more fully in practice. Now, what's happened in, with people like Peter Irons and Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga, and who was the person who died recently, who wrote...?

TI: Oh. Michi Weglyn?

GH: Michi Weglyn. She, she's been pointing out certain things which, which finally got accepted as part of relevant data. So it's -- see, these are data that are from the past. It was there before, but it was not envisioned that way and it was overlooked. And in the new context recently, well, in 1988, the, in, it didn't get to the Supreme Court. But the circuit court came out with a powerful statement in our case.

TI: Right. Before we even get there, let me give some background. So the people you mentioned, a lot of them did a lot of research primarily, I believe, in the National Archives where they uncovered documents that showed that the government suppressed information that would have been relevant to your case. And in doing so that, that opened up the coram nobis cases that relate to your case as well as the Korematsu and to Yasui case. And so, and it was then overturned -- well, not, I'm sorry, your case wasn't overturned per se, but it was reopened. And...

GH: Well --

TI: ...not at the Supreme Court level, but at the federal circuit court of appeals?

GH: Yeah. It's, it's legally, you have to discuss this with people beyond me in terms of the legality. In one sense only the Supreme Court can change a Supreme Court decision. A lower court, like an appeals court, court of appeals, cannot overrule a Supreme Court decision. However, they can over-, overrule certain kinds of cases at the appeals level, at their level, which they did. And they got, they did this powerfully, pointing out -- the government finally stopped arguing substantively on the legal part. They were trying to bring in all kinds of factors, relevancy factors, circumstances, technicalities that would overthrow the, have grounds to overthrow the court case. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in my case said in no uncertain term that, when the government said, the two aspects that are of interest to me, one is -- let's see, now, how do I best illustrate this?


TI: And again, we're at the coram nobis where we're about forty, a little more than forty years later in 19-, about 1983 that you start going through a series of hearings with the government that took another look at your case. And I guess a place where I'll start is, the government had several arguments, but two that come to mind are one, the duration, the length of time from when the Supreme Court ruled back in the '40s to the '80s, and that was one of their arguments, that it was too long to reopen it. And the second one was whether or not you suffered as an individual because of this ruling. Let's start with, first, the duration, and can you talk a little bit about why that argument didn't hold much water?

GH: Well, the duration, the, they pointed out that Grodzins,in his book, American Betrayal [Ed. note: Narrator is referring to Morton Grodzins' book, Americans Betrayed: Politics and the Japanese Evacuation] -- I don't know exact title of it, of that book, 'cause I haven't read over the bibliography recently, but one of those that came out in the early '50s, I believe, or late, late '40s -- where the government said, "All these arguments that you're pointing out, he's already made those. Why didn't you make those appeals then?" And, and the answer to that was that until the archives produced the evidence that Grodzins was making in his case, we didn't have the grounds to put that forward. We agreed with the sentiments, but we didn't have the grounds. With those archival records, we do now.

TI: And what period of time, from the time the information was uncovered at the National Archives to when you reopened the case? What period of time are we talking about there?

GH: We, archives, I think archives was opened sometime in the '30s.

TI: No, in terms of, I'm sorry, Peter Irons and Aiko Herzig, those individuals actually finding the documents that pertained to your case.

AI:About 1981 or '82?

GH: Yeah.

TI: Okay. Because...

GH: We filed the writ of error coram nobis. We filed that in January of 1983.

TI: Okay. Good. So your answer to this was, it really has only been a short period of time since this evidence has been uncovered...

GH: Yeah.

TI: ...that, to the time of your reopening the case?

GH: We had, we had hypotheses prior to that, and some of those have been demonstrated now. But at the time we didn't have the documents to do that.

TI: Good, okay.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.