Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Peter Irons Interview II
Narrator: Peter Irons
Interviewers: Alice Ito (primary), Lorraine Bannai (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: October 27, 2000
Densho ID: denshovh-ipeter-02

[Ed. note: Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

<Begin Segment 1>

AI: Today is October 27, 2000. We're here in Seattle, Washington, with Peter Irons. I'm Alice Ito. Co-interviewer is Lori Bannai, and videographer is Dana Hoshide. Thanks again, Peter, for continuing on with the interview.

PI: Sure.

AI: Last time when we ended, you were describing some of your experience in prison and were coming toward the end of your prison experience. But if you could tell a little bit more about that time, and when it was that you decided to, that you would continue on with graduate school afterwards and your plans and what you did.

PI: I had pretty much decided before I went into prison that I would go back to school when I got out, although I wasn't sure what I was going to do. I'd been in sociology in graduate school at the University of New Hampshire for a short time, and sociology had been my undergraduate major at Antioch. And so I was probably thinking I'd do that. But one thing that happened, very important event in my life, really, when I was in prison. It's very hard to get reading material. And all, at that time everything that was sent in, books, magazines, newspapers, had to be censored and reviewed. And it was also not only the censorship, but it was a very time-consuming, and they put limits on who could send materials. They had to be sent directly from the publisher so that, that, I guess they were afraid people would hollow out books and put in drugs or guns or things like that. But at any rate, since I'd been very active in the Civil Rights movement before I went to prison, I heard of a book, I don't quite remember how, but there was a book called, SNCC: The New Abolitionists. And it was a, sort of a history or a memoir, really, of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, written by a historian named Howard Zinn, who was at Boston University. And Howard Zinn had been very active himself in the Civil Rights movement. In fact, he'd been fired from a teaching job at Spellman College in Atlanta, which was a historically black women's college, for being too active in the Civil Rights movement. So I got a copy of this book, and it was really fascinating. And so I had asked whoever sent it to me to get more books by Howard Zinn, and I started corresponding with him. I just wrote to him and said that I'd really admired his work and, actually I think I asked him if he could send me, or have his publisher send me copies of other books he'd done, because he'd written several at that time. One of them was a book called Vietnam -- it was a book about the Vietnam War. I forget the exact title, but it was the case for pulling out of the war. And so our correspondence went on. I never actually met him. He didn't come down to visit me in Danbury. At that time they restricted visitors to immediate family members.

But at one point I remember getting a copy of a book that Howard Zinn had written. It was called The Logic of Withdrawal. And then he wrote another little book on civil disobedience. It was defending civil disobedience as a protest tactic, sort of based on Thoreau and Gandhi and the Civil Rights movement. And he sent me a copy of that book. It was a very short little book. And I read it and I thought it was really good. So I passed it on to some of my friends to read. And I remember one of them came back and said, "Man, that's really amazing. That's awesome." And I said, "What's that?" And he said, "Look, right here." And I had not even realized, because I'd skipped over it, that Howard had dedicated that book to me. He'd never have, having met me, he said, "To Peter Irons and the other draft resisters." Well, sort of a collective dedication, but it was my name. I was very impressed and touched by that. So I wrote to Howard as my release date was approaching. I had gone up before the parole board. And after you serve one-third of your sentence, you are eligible for parole. That was after I'd been in for a year. And I was not expecting to be paroled, but I discovered the very minute I walked into the room with the parole board that I wasn't going to get out, because the first question they asked me was, "How long have you been a Jehovah's Witness?" And they had assumed that everybody, all draft resisters were Jehovah's Witnesses. And I realized they hadn't even read the parole report or the file. And sure enough I got turned down. But, so I wrote to Howard, and I said, "Could you ask the proper people at Boston University to send me an application for graduate school?" And I didn't know whether I could be admitted or how I would pay for it. And a couple of weeks later, I got a letter back from Howard that said, "You have been admitted to the graduate school with a full fellowship." And that was just astounding.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

PI: So I remember I was released from prison in February of 1969. And in New England there was a huge blizzard going on. I got out of prison. My brother Rockwell picked me up, drove me to Boston. And I was supposed to start graduate school the next day at Boston University. It was in the middle of the semester, as a matter of fact. I'd missed the first month and a half or so. And it was just a real blizzard. I walked all the way from Beacon Hill to Boston University, because the trolleys and subway weren't running. And I got there, and I remember going into the political science department and looking for, I had been registered for a class in, I think Marxist theory, that Howard was teaching. And I walked up the stairs, and this, there was this little seminar room. I just, I walked in. I'd never, still never met him. And I was shaking snow off and I said, "I'm Peter Irons." I was a little late. And he said, "Oh, sit down." And we just started right in like that as if I had been there all along. So I spent three years in graduate school at Boston University. Now, I have to confess that I did not enjoy graduate school, most of it. The only two things I did enjoy were working with Howard. I became one of his teaching assistants. He taught a course, a very, very popular course, usually enrolled, oh, several hundred students, called Justice in America. And we put together a curriculum for that. There weren't any textbooks that were any good. So he put together his own material. We later published a book called Justice in America, or Justice in Everyday Life was the title of the book. And it was based on papers that students had written, going out and investigating in the Boston area, you know, the injustices that happened to people -- not only major injustices, criminal things, but just minor things, you know, being dealt with badly by landlords and real estate agents and welfare agencies, things like that. So I really enjoyed that.

And the other thing I enjoyed, which is not true of most graduate students, was working on my dissertation. And don't remember how I picked the topic, but the topic for my dissertation was America's Cold War Crusade. And it was the study of the relation between domestic politics and foreign policy during the early Cold War period. I do remember it had been stimulated by reading a book by a historian named William Appleman Williams at the University of Wisconsin. And it was sort of a revisionist kind of history that looked at American policy at the end of the war. We were by far the most powerful country in the world. The Soviet Union was in very bad shape. Even though we had won the war, most of Europe and the Americans dominated -- setting up the Marshall Plan and NATO -- dominated the world. And at the same time, there was this very strong anti-Communist McCarthyism began really right after the war before McCarthy himself became, gave his name to McCarthyism. At any rate, that's what I worked on. And I did a lot of research, primary research. I really enjoyed doing that.

And at the time I finished graduate school, which was 1973, I -- and this was a time when the universities in Boston were turning out Ph.Ds in droves. A lot of people, especially young men, had gone to graduate school largely to escape the draft. And as long as you stayed in school you were safe. And so there were, the joke was that almost all the taxi drivers in Boston had Ph.Ds. And I was very, I wasn't sure where I could find a job. I finally wound up at Boston State College, which was basically a teacher-training school, a night school. I taught at night. Taught sociology, urban politics, things like that, and was basically not, the working conditions were terrible. The pay was terrible. The building we worked in was a warehouse. The students were very interesting. A lot of older students, working-class students, most of them Irish, Italian, and black. For some reason I had a lot of nuns and police officers and firefighters in my classes. And it was, we had a lot of debates on social issues in those classes. But it was, I was not in an institution that had tenure. There was, I had no guarantee of where I would go, what I would do.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

PI: And while I was in graduate school, I had been asked to do some research, historical research, for the law firm that was defending Daniel Ellsburg in the Pentagon Papers case. Now, the Pentagon Papers case, which started, I think, in 1972 when Daniel Ellsburg turned over to the New York Times this mammoth, secret history of the Vietnam War that the federal government had prepared. And Ellsburg was indicted for releasing these papers, criminal indictment. The government also sued the newspapers to prevent the publication. They lost that case, but they were prosecuting Ellsburg really in retaliation, to punish him. And the lawyers who were defending him wanted research to document other examples of people who have released classified government documents without being prosecuted. They were going to raise the defense of selective prosecution. Ellsburg was being singled out to punish him when other people had done the same thing and never been prosecuted. So I was asked to do this. And I worked on it for some months and put together a big collection of material that had been released by people like President Johnson and Henry Kissinger, other people who had, had released this material in books and articles. That case never went to trial because the government screwed up in the Ellsburg case. They offered the judge during the trial the directorship of the FBI on the assumption that he would be favorable to the government. And he immediately declared a mistrial. Ellsburg was never retried. But out of that I got a very interesting look at how the legal process operates. I only knew my own case and some of the civil rights cases that I'd been involved in. But I got interested working with some very excellent lawyers, Charles Nesson, who was on the Harvard Law School faculty; a man named Walter Slocum, who was a private attorney in Washington. And he had a very powerful legal team defending him. And I thought this was fascinating. I really enjoyed that kind of work and sitting in on those legal strategy meetings.

I didn't, at that time, have any idea of going to law school. I also got involved in another lawsuit as an outgrowth of my dissertation research. During the early Cold War periods, period, a man named Alger Hiss had been convicted of perjury, basically for lying about spying for the Soviet Union during the 1930s and early '40s when he worked in the government. The Hiss case became a real famous issue. And in fact it's what propelled Richard Nixon to fame. But at any rate, I got interested in this because in my dissertation research, I'd come across some fascinating material that suggested that Alger Hiss may have been framed and, which he had claimed all along. He was still alive. And so I contacted him. I worked with, at Boston State College, his niece. She put me in touch with him, and I worked with him. And he wanted to put together a lawsuit to reopen his case on the ground that he had, the government had fabricated the evidence against him. And so I worked on that. I got more and more interested in law particularly because Howard Zinn, although he wasn't a lawyer, we worked with justice issues involving the courts.

So one day, when I, my prospects for the future were looking rather uncertain and I didn't know where I was going to teach the next year, I was just sitting having coffee with a friend in Harvard Square in Cambridge, and she said, "You know, you keep talking about going to law school. Why don't you do it?" And I thought, "Well, I don't have anything to lose." So I walked across the street -- this is a true story -- to the admissions office at Harvard Law School. And I said, "Can you tell me what you need to do to apply to law school here?" They said, "Well, you have to take the law school, the LSAT," Law School Aptitude Test. And that was the last day to register for the test. So I registered. I took the test. And much to my surprise, I got virtually a perfect score on the LSAT. Back in those days it was a, sort of an advanced SAT test, lots of grammar, geography, history, what's wrong with this sentence kind of thing. And I was really good at that. And so I decided that I would apply to three law schools, Harvard, Boston University, and Boston College. I wanted to stay in Boston. I was married, at that time -- I had gotten married just after I got out of prison to a woman I'd met at Antioch before I graduated. And so I did not expect to be admitted to Harvard Law School. In fact, I wasn't sure I'd be admitted to any of the schools because on my application forms I'd said I was a convicted felon. Also I had letters of recommendation to Harvard from two convicted criminals. One was Alger Hiss and the other was Howard Zinn. And I thought, "Well, this is probably not going to work." But to my absolute surprise, I got a letter from Harvard Law School that I'd been admitted. I never did hear from BU or BC because I called them up and said, "Cancel my applications."

And so I went to law school literally with the idea of, not of practicing law full-time, but of going back to teaching. I wanted to teach law, not necessarily in a law school, but to do the kind of teaching that Howard Zinn was doing, but with more of a real background and training in law. And I thought I also might do some legal work, maybe work for the American Civil Liberties Union, work that I could help people, civil liberties and civil rights issues. So I spent three years in law school, and I did, did not focus on my classroom work. And in fact, my grades in law school were sort of in the middle somewhere. What I did was as much legal and social activism as I could. I worked for an organization at Harvard called Harvard Voluntary Defenders, where they send law students, second- and third-year law students, into the local courts to represent indigent criminal defendants. And that was a fascinating experience. I spent a whole summer doing that. I realized that I didn't want to do criminal law partly because I felt very uncomfortable going into jails and prisons and lockups. I guess it was sort of like a post-traumatic stress kind of thing, the idea of going back in and being locked up, even if I could get out, didn't appeal to me. And it's very frustrating work. Most of your clients are guilty of something. The whole job is just to keep them out of jail or prison. It's not like Perry Mason. And the people you deal with, the prosecutors and the judges are generally very hostile and antagonistic. And I learned quite early that police officers will lie on the witness stand just to get someone convicted. The judges do not listen to arguments about constitutional rights. And so it was not, it was a fascinating experience, but not something I wanted to do as a career.

I also worked for the Committee on Military Justice, which helped people in -- and the Vietnam War was still going on at this time. I entered law school in 1975. The war was just ending. But there were a lot of people in the military in, in stockades or who were trying to get discharged either as conscientious objectors or to get a bad conduct discharge reversed. There were still people who were, had resisted the draft and fled the country. So there was a lot of work to do, and I enjoyed doing that.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

PI: Now, one other thing that happened in law school that had a tremendous impact not only on me, but I think on the whole redress, coram nobis effort. When I was in law school, I think in my first year of law school, Congress passed the law called the Freedom of Information Act. I think it was actually passed in 1974, but it became effective in 1975. I was one of the very first people to use the Freedom of Information Act. I'd always suspected that there was a pretty thick FBI file on me. Everything that I'd done in the Civil Rights movement, the antiwar movement, we always knew that there were FBI agents or informers around. And people were very suspicious -- their telephones were being tapped, their mail was being read, their meetings were being spied on. And so I just thought, "Well, I'd like to see what's in the file." So I submitted an FOIA request to the FBI, another one to the Justice Department, and one to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Now, they processed these requests as slowly as possible, because frankly the government did not want to open up their files, particularly FBI files. So they resisted at every opportunity. And it became sort of a hobby of mine. I liked doing this suit. I filed it, what was called pro se, representing myself, and filed a complaint in the federal district court. The FBI did not respond in the statutory time. In fact, the law gave them ten days to respond. Well, they never responded to anybody within ten days. So I filed a lawsuit. And some of the records actually were turned over, particularly from the Bureau of Prisons.

The Bureau of Prisons had in its file on me a number of documents that they had gotten from other agencies, particularly the FBI. And one of those documents -- I don't remember the details -- but one of those documents suggested that I had been called up for induction. I had been convicted of failing to report for military service, and I had been asked or ordered to report on a particular day, I think in 1963. And I had not gone. One of the records that I got suggested that I had been called up earlier than I should have been under the rules. They were then drafting people by age, starting with the oldest and going down. The maximum age for the draft was twenty-six, and then they'd draft people at twenty-five, twenty-four, twenty-three. And it was all strictly, they later changed to a lottery system. But at that point there were very definite rules. And I felt that it was possible that I could get my conviction reversed the same way that Alger Hiss was trying to get his conviction reversed on the grounds that the government had committed misconduct of various kinds.

So I started doing some research on how to do that. And it was nothing that we had learned in law school. I had taken courses in civil procedure. Knew nothing about that. But in the law library at Harvard, I came up with a section of the federal code called the All Writs Act. And it, a writ is, basically means a writing, a piece of paper. And writs are things that people give to a court, asking the court to do something. The most famous writ is the writ of habeas corpus. If somebody is locked up or arrested, they can ask a judge to have a hearing on the lawfulness of their detention. Well, the All Writs Act says that federal courts can issue all writs which are conformable to practice, totally vague term. What are those writs? Well, I did more research and discovered that there is one writ, very, very rarely used, called the writ of error coram nobis, and I'd never heard of it. And in fact, in the research I found very few cases that dealt in any way with that writ. So I dug into it a little more, and I discovered that there were some hurdles that people had to go over in order to use that writ. First of all, it's only available to people who have already completed serving a sentence, a criminal sentence. You can't use it as a form of appeal. And there has to be a showing, a very strong showing, that the government, whether it was state or local or federal government, had deliberately withheld evidence from the defendant at the time of trial or had presented false evidence. And you had to show this very convincingly. You couldn't just suggest that something wrong had been done. And that the defendant was still alive, and that the defendant faced some continuing legal disabilities because of their conviction, like not being able to vote, which was true in my case.

So I put this together with the records that I'd got from the Selective Service System and the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and filed a writ with the federal court in Cincinnati, where I had been convicted back in 1965. This was ten, eleven years later while I was in law school. Much to my surprise, the U.S. attorney in Cincinnati responded and did not object to the petition, because the evidence was very clear that I had been inducted out of turn. And the Supreme Court had recently decided a case, very similar kind of case, in which somebody had been inducted out of turn to punish them for their anti-draft activities and been convicted, and the U.S. Supreme Court overturned their conviction on the ground that the Selective Service System had not followed their own rules. So I thought, "Well, this is exactly what happened to me." And the U.S. attorney did not oppose the petition. So it was granted by the federal judge in Cincinnati, and as a consequence my conviction was wiped out. And to me, this was sort of a moral victory. It didn't have any real consequences, although I could now vote, and I wouldn't be subject to harsher penalties if I was ever convicted of another crime. But it was a way for me of saying, well, the government had to pay a little price for what they had done to me, even though I had volunteered for prison, in effect, by resisting the draft. Now, the irony of this is that if my lawyer at the time of my original trial, or I had known about what was in the draft board records, we probably could have had the indictment thrown out. But we didn't even think about it. Our only issue was the constitutional issue of the religious test for conscientious objection. So in a sense, because my lawyer had never handled a criminal case, had no notion of how to do these things, he didn't even think of this as a defense. We never called the draft board officials to say, "When did you issue the order? Show us all the records." We stipulated that I hadn't showed up, and that was it.

AI: So the course of your life and your later work might have been extremely different if your attorney at the time had been aware of those possibilities. You might never have gone to prison.

PI: Right. But one of the things I've learned over the years is that -- and this is true in many, many ways in my life and in most people's lives -- is how these little contingencies affect what happens later -- just taking one path rather than another, making one decision rather than another, and meeting a person, being in a certain place. And so the, the experience I had of resisting the draft, going to prison, then going on, graduate school and law school, finishing law school, and at the same time learning more about how to use the law and particularly procedure that nobody -- I'm sure that none of my Harvard Law School faculty, my teachers, could have answered a question about coram nobis. It just wasn't used. So my finding that in my particular case, in fact, having a case in which to use it, was really an accident.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

LB: We're talking about your decision to go to law school and some of your work using the law, but I recall that you talked earlier about going to the SNCC conference and being struck by the suggestion that you should cut all ties to the system. Did you ever reflect on that in law school that actually when you were going to law school and taking on cases, you actually were part of that system that you had once wanted to cut ties with?

PI: Well, that's a very good question because in, for many people and probably with myself, the kind of attitude you have when you're full of youthful zeal and enthusiasm, rebellion, become tempered over time and you learn that you must make some compromises. Many people make too many compromises. But one thing I learned -- and I think this came out of my work in the Civil Rights movement as well -- we were cutting our ties with the system, we were opposing the system, we were going to jail and prison, we were willing to do that, but at the same time, we had and we needed very good lawyers to defend us in these cases. Many of the convictions were unjust and were, should have been opposed, that you can use the system to people's benefit without really becoming part of the system.

There was a story people told during the Vietnam War that I think sort of illustrated this. That the, the Vietnamese people, the Viet, the NLF, the National Liberation Front, they would sometimes pick up and use weapons from the Americans in the South Vietnamese Army that they had captured or that were abandoned and used those and turned those around. So the idea was that you can, you use every weapon you can find, even if it's the enemy's weapon. If the legal system is fundamentally unjust, then what, what you can accomplish within that system depends on how you use the tools that the system gives you. And so it's, it's a very difficult -- I never wanted to be part of the system in the sense of, "oh, the law is the answer to all these problems, that it, it's the best and most perfect system that has ever been devised." Most people know that that's not true. But most people also don't realize the extent to which the system operates at its very basis in an unjust kind of way, because people who are poor, people of color, simply don't have the resources and the skills to fight for themselves. And that's what I thought lawyers should do, or at least those lawyers who, who had a real social conscience.

One of the things that struck me in law school was at the very beginning when I, my first week at Harvard Law School, the law school newspaper published a survey. They'd given us all a questionnaire when we showed up for orientation. And the survey showed that exactly two-thirds of my classmates -- and there were about 500 of us -- wanted to go into public interest law. That's what we said, two-thirds of us. And this was a time when Ralph Nader was very popular. He was a Harvard Law School graduate. In fact, the idea of doing environmental work and civil rights work and all of this kind of stuff, the feminist movement was really getting started. Three years later the placement office at Harvard Law School releases its annual survey of what jobs people are actually taking. The 67 percent of us who wanted to go into public interest law had dwindled to one percent. People had made choices. And you shouldn't fault them for doing this, you know, and it's sort of natural. They had gotten seduced by the corporate law system. They'd been given summer jobs that paid huge salaries for virtually no skills. And they'd made these choices. Now, I never made that choice. I had decided to go into law school teaching when I finished Harvard, which I did.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

AI: Well, now before we leave your law school years, another very important thing happened in that you were exposed to the Japanese American wartime internment cases. Let me ask you, before you came upon those cases, had you had much experience or personal knowledge of Asian Americans or their part in history, or considered Asian Americans in the mix of issues of racial discrimination or racial justice?

PI: Virtually none. And I think -- which is another commentary. I talked earlier about how I had gone to segregated schools when I was young and not even known about it or thought about it. I grew up and went to school, all the way through elementary school, high school, college, graduate school, and law school before I even knew anything about the internment. Now, most of my life I'd spent in the Midwest and the East Coast. I had spent three years in the state of Washington, but out in eastern Washington. I don't recall a single Asian person out there. There were Native Americans and a very small number of blacks, but no Asians that I recall. The first person I remember even knowing who was Asian was a, someone who lived in my apartment building when I was in graduate school who was Japanese American. I didn't even know at the time until after I went to law school that he had been born in one of the internment camps. He never talked about it. We just had a sort of, you know, neighborly kind of acquaintance, and it never came up. So literally the first time that I ever knew anything about the internment was in my constitutional law class, my second year at Harvard, taught by Professor Lawrence (Tribe). And I remember very distinctly the day that we talked about the internment cases. And in most law school casebooks they're put together, Korematsu and Hirabayashi, and it generally doesn't take more than one class session or not even that. It's part of the civil rights which focuses mostly on civil rights issues involving African Americans, but -- and also governmental powers. So I remember reading these cases and being struck with what seemed to me to be an obvious injustice and finding it hard to believe that the Supreme Court at that time in the 1940s... we were also trained to, to feel that the members of the Supreme Court back then, people like William O. Douglas, Hugo Black, Frank Murphy, Harlan Stone, Felix Frankfurter, were great civil libertarians and civil rights defenders, and in many cases that was true. And so here you have an example of how they all in the first, in the Hirabayashi case, they all upheld the conviction on the ground of military necessity. And how could such liberal justices have done something like that? So I do recall very vividly learning about these cases, but interestingly I didn't go any farther. You know, in law school you do so many cases, you have to get through this gigantic casebook. And I didn't say, "Well, I'm going to go find out everything I can learn about the internment." I just went on to the next set of cases, but it stuck in my mind, these particular cases.

AI: And was there anything else you wanted to relate about your law school years before going on to the next step in your chronology?

PI: I think the main thing about law school is that I went in at a relatively advanced age. I was thirty-five when I entered law school. And I also came out of a background, social activism, that made me more immune. It's sort of like an inoculation to the seductiveness of corporate law that most of my classmates succumbed to, not because there's anything wrong with them, but simply because they had not in a sense been inoculated against that. The idea that, and I met so many of my classmates in later years who to some degree regret their compromises. They all have very high-paying jobs, make a lot of money, but as one of them said to me, "I'm so mortgaged, I can't get out." He said, "I'd love to do what you're doing. I just can't do it. I can't escape." And since I had never wanted to do that kind of work, I looked at law school in a way as getting the training I needed to use the system, to learn the system, and to use the system in a very different kind of way.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

AI: So then at that point you had this goal in mind, and what did you do to begin putting that into practice?

PI: Well, the first thing I wanted to do after I left law school was to get a job teaching law. I did not want to go to work -- in fact, I had an offer from a very big corporate law firm in Washington, D.C., to go down there and to be their full-time pro bono lawyer. It was a very tempting offer, and the man who gave me the offer said, "Look, you will, you can work on any case you want to. You'll get a regular salary as an associate, but you'll just do pro bono work." This was one of the first firms that offered that option. And it was very, very tempting, but I didn't want to leave Boston, partly because my wife really enjoyed the work she was doing there and I'd lived in Washington. I didn't really want to go back at that time. So I decided to stay in the Boston area, and if I could, find a teaching job. And it turned out to be one of these true stories of, "I found my job in the New York Times." They used to run a series of ads, "I found my job through the New York Times." Well, I did. I, one Sunday, looking in the academic help wanted pages that they run every week, for law instructors at Boston College Law School. And I applied for the job and was hired immediately. There was a very brief interview. I think it was one of the first times a Harvard Law School graduate had actually applied to teach at Boston College Law School. So I was hired. And this was a instructor's job where I was teaching legal research and writing to first-year law students, and also teaching a course in American legal history. If I recall, the salary was $12,000 a year, more than I had been making any time before. And I really enjoyed that year. I liked the law school, and I really enjoyed the teaching experience. Anybody who's taught first-year law students legal research and writing, knows that it can be a very time-consuming, difficult job. You don't get the kind of rewards if you're teaching regular law school courses. But my students seemed to respond really well to the way I taught the course, which was very different because I used actual, real cases for their exercises and got them involved, and in fact, contacted, in some of these cases, contacted the attorneys who were handling them and asked if they needed some assistance. So my students were doing research that might actually help somebody. And I enjoyed that. But it was not a job, it was a one-year job. I probably could have stayed for a second year, but I also wanted to go back to teaching undergraduates, which I had been doing at Boston University as a graduate assistant to Howard Zinn. And I'd also done some undergraduate teaching while I was in law school. I taught a course on law and justice at Tufts University, which is near Boston, and enjoyed that.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

PI: And I don't remember how, but I learned of a job at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, which is ninety miles west of Boston. They had a program called the Law and Society Program, teaching legal issues to undergraduates. It was the biggest and the first program of its kind in an American university. And these were, there were seven instructors in the program, and they all taught law and society. And they needed somebody to fill in for people who were on sabbatical, and I got the job. And I stayed there for three years, and I commuted twice a week out to Amherst from Boston. I still lived in Boston. But that was for me a teaching experience I really enjoyed. And it was what I wanted to keep doing, preferably by staying there. But that job, which did not have any tenure attached to it, ended after three years.

And one of the other fortuities in my life, the day after I learned that that job was ended, that I would not be rehired for the next year, I got a call, telephone call, out of the blue from the University of California in San Diego, asking if I was interested in a job teaching law in the political science department at U.C. San Diego. I'd never heard of the school. I'd never been to San Diego. And to me this was like, you know, a bolt of lightning because I had really been, I had no idea what I would do if I left the University of Massachusetts. And I knew a lot of people who were taking jobs, teaching jobs, that paid very little, that had no tenure, no job security. They were sort of itinerants like migrant farm workers. They were migrant academic workers. And particularly at this time in the, in the late '70s, early '80s, there weren't any really good prospects.

I did, however, have one advantage. While I was working at the University of Massachusetts, I finished writing a book that I'd started in law school. It was my third-year paper at Harvard Law School. And it was a study of the litigation strategies of lawyers who worked in the New Deal agencies in the first administration of Franklin Roosevelt. It might sound like a really boring topic, but I did a lot of work in the files of these agencies -- the National Labor Relations Board, the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, and the National Recovery Administration. I went down to Washington and dug into their files. And it was fascinating to see how lawyers actually picked cases, tried to find cases back then that they could take up to the Supreme Court to test the constitutionality of Roosevelt's program, which was a very radical program at the time. So I, I did this research. I wrote a paper at Harvard, which was about 250 pages long. It was three or four times the average first- -- third-year paper. But I kept working on it, and I found a publisher, Princeton University Press, to publish it. So I had this book done. And that made me much more attractive as a junior professor or as a candidate for a teaching job. And so when I came out to San Diego for that job interview, it turned out once again to be very quick. I gave a talk, met people, and they offered me the job the very next day. So literally within a very short time, I had left total insecurity about my job prospects for a new position that was in a totally different place that I'd ever been to, and I'm still there.

AI: Well, now, this was such a major change in your life, and that, leaving Boston, where you had been for so many years and engaged in many activities in addition to your work and your school. What was it like for you to then be transplanted to San Diego, completely way over on the West Coast, a very different mix, a social mix, population-wise?

PI: Well, first of all, it was a tremendous cultural shock. I had been in Boston for thirteen years and was basically a New Englander or at least an East Coast person. And moving to southern California where I knew nobody and not having any real connection to the place, the... I think the thing that made it the most and the easiest for me to adjust is that I brought with me from Boston the coram nobis cases. I immediately became involved when I moved to San Diego in working on those cases, spending lots of time in San Francisco and Portland and Seattle. And so at the time I was starting my teaching at U.C. San Diego, I was also virtually full-time working on the coram nobis cases. And the story of how that started really begins before I left Boston.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

LB: This is Lori Bannai conducting the interview now. When we broke last, you were talking about the move from Boston to San Diego. But at some point in time prior to your move, you had started thinking about writing the book, Justice at War. Can you tell us how that came about?

PI: That's a very funny story, because I had not intended to write that book when I started. After I finished the book that was published first, called The New Deal Lawyers, I really enjoyed writing that book. And I sort of decided, I don't know how, but I decided I liked writing books rather than shorter articles. And what I had wanted to do was to move, stay in that general time period, the first half of the 20th Century. I'd done a lot of work on that in graduate school, and it was sort of my field in American history. And of course, I'd also been very interested in the FBI because of my own case and just learning about how the FBI operated. And somebody had told me -- and I still don't remember who -- that the National Archives in Washington where I'd done most of the research for my first book, had just gotten a hold of 5,000 rolls of microfilm of all of the FBI's records, the original FBI records from the period before J. Edgar Hoover became director in the mid-1920s. So this was a period from roughly 1910, when the bureau was first started in the Justice Department, it was just called the Bureau of Investigation, until Hoover took over. And during that time, of course, particularly the First World War, there were all kinds of, of activities, strikes, the Great Steel Strike of 1919, the formation of the Communist Party also in 1919. The FBI was investigating virtually every radical. They'd had a big roundup of radicals, deported many of them during World War I. And so I thought that there would, could be a really good book out of this, either one or more of these episodes or just how the FBI first started as, focusing on compiling lists and files on radicals in this country.

So I decided to go down to Washington. In fact, I got a small grant from a foundation to go down to Washington and the archives and start looking through this material. So I went down, and I discovered, this was in the, the summer of 1981, and I discovered shortly after I got there that this was an unmanageable project. There were 5,000 rolls of microfilm, and they had fascinating material on them, but there was no index at all to this material, no way of finding, connecting one file or one document to another. They had all just been piled together, photocopied on microfilm. And there were probably well over a million pages of material. And for anybody to go through all of that, sort it out, would be, take years. And I didn't want to spend years just getting prepared to write something. So I was, I had a sort of dilemma in Washington. Do I continue with this project, turn it into a who-knows-how-long, many year project, or do I find something else to do? Do I go back to Boston and give up on this project, or do I stay in Washington and try to find some use for the time I'd put aside, couple of weeks, to work in the archives?

So while I was thinking about this, I went up to the little library inside the National Archives. It's just basically one room with a bunch of reference books. And I sat down. I knew that I wanted to do something dealing with civil rights or civil liberties during this period really of the first half of the 20th Century. I also knew since I had done a whole book about the New Deal period, the Roosevelt administration, that this was a very, I knew a lot about that period, and I wanted to focus on the civil rights aspect of that historical period. And I knew that there'd been a lot of civil rights activism, the anti-lynching movement, things like that. So I sat down, and there was a reference book, sort of American constitutional history, in this little library. And I started thumbing through it just literally page-by-page looking for inspiration, looking for something that would say, here's a potential book or a project that I can work on to keep me going for another couple of weeks in Washington.

And as I was thumbing through this book, I suddenly noticed the internment cases, Korematsu and Hirabayashi. And, of course, I recalled studying them in law school and realizing that they were a tremendous civil liberties disaster, civil rights disaster. And at that very moment, I thought, "Well, maybe there's something in the archives that I could use at least to see if there's enough to put together a book on these cases." And the whole idea would be, how did the Supreme Court make such terrible decisions in these cases? Try to understand from looking into how the cases began, how the lawyers worked on them, how the justices dealt with these cases, strictly as an academic project. Now, the first thing I had to figure out was, was I going to duplicate somebody else's work? Had there already been books written about this and I didn't know that? There weren't any citations in this history book I was looking at, so I decided to go to the Library of Congress. In Washington the National Archives is about a mile from the Library of Congress, go up Capitol, Pennsylvania Avenue, Capitol Hill. It was in August. It was really, really hot. And I remember going out of the National Archives and almost jogging up the hill to the Nat- to the Library of Congress. And at that time the Library of Congress had the world's largest file, I mean -- what do you call them? You pull out the drawers and look at the...

LB: Card catalog.

PI: ...card catalog. There were millions of cards in the card catalog. And so I found what I thought was the right entry, Japanese Americans, and went through all these cards of which were probably a hundred or more, looking for something that had dealt with the internment from a legal perspective. I found one book, and it was a book that had been written right after the war by three men, Jacobus tenBroek and two others, Edward Barnhart and I forget the third -- Floyd Matson, I think, was, although that may be wrong -- about the legal issues coming out of the internment. And I took a quick look at that in the archive, in the Library of Congress and discovered that it really wasn't a study of the internment cases. It had discussed them in a very general kind of way. So I went back down to the National Archives and tried to find if there was material there about these cases. And I had a friend who worked in the archives who had done a lot of, given me a lot of help on my first book, a woman named Mary Walton Livingston. And she had been at the archives longer than anybody else at the very beginning of the 1930s. She knew where everything was located. So I went to see Mary Walton, and I said, "I'd like to just see what there is about the internment, particularly the legal issues." And she said, "Well, there was an agency, it was called the War Relocation Agency, and we have their records here in the archives." And they had a legal section she looked up in one of their catalogs, the solicitor's office. And I said, "Well, let me take a look, and I'll get started."

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

PI: Now, back in those days, researchers, or at least those who had connections to the staff were allowed to go back in the stacks of the National Archives and sort of rummage around. If you found a collection, you could look at the boxes and see if there were things you wanted to use, and they would send them down to the reading room where you could make notes. So Mary Walton took me through the stacks to where the solicitor's files would be for the War Relocation Authority. And they weren't there. And I thought, "Oh, this is not going to work." And so she went and looked up and said, "Well, somebody actually has them out right now down in the reading room. They're checked out to someone down in the reading room." In the National Archives, they have document boxes, these file boxes of documents. And they put them on carts and take them down to the reading room. So I said, "Well, at the very least I can find out who's doing this and what they're doing, and decide whether I've got to go back and find another project. So Mary Walton said, she looked at the checkout card and said, "Well, there's a woman down there. Her name is Aiko Yoshinaga." And I thought, "Well, she's probably Japanese American. I will go down to the reading room and look around."

So I went down to the reading room. It was a very large room in the National Archives, lots of desks. And people sit there all day long, making notes on documents. Back then they didn't let you make Xerox copies of things. You had to make hand-written notes. So I looked around, and there was one person in the reading room who looked Asian. And I walked over and very tentatively -- I think I tapped her on the shoulder or something to get her attention -- I said, "Excuse me. I understand that you're using the records of the solicitor's office in the War Relocation Authority." And she said, "Yes." I said, "Can I ask you what you're doing with them? Are you writing a book?" She said, "No. I'm with the Commission on Wartime Relocation, and I'm a researcher and I'm doing research for the commission." I'd never heard of the commission. And in fact, I hadn't even decided until that very day to work on these cases and the internment. So I knew literally nothing. And my first thought was, "Well, probably, whatever, there's going to be something written before I have a chance to do anything." But then Aiko said to me, "Can you, what's your interest?" And I said, "Well, I was thinking of writing a book about the internment cases, the legal issues." And she said, "Well, I, a lot of these legal documents from the solicitor's office I don't even understand. Maybe you could help me." And I said, "Well, are you writing a book about this?" She said, "No, I'm not." I said, "Well, I'll tell you what -- " And I don't recall every word of this conversation, but I remember sitting down with her.

And we made an agreement that, she told me what the commission was doing, that they were doing a report for Congress and they were looking at all the documents in the federal government that they could find dealing with the internment, that they had access to all of these documents -- Congress had given them that authority -- and that they were conducting hearings around the country for people to testify about their experiences and every aspect of the internment. So Aiko and I made an agreement that I would work on the legal issues with a book in mind, that she would -- and that I would look for other records outside the archives, particularly in the Department of Justice, and that whatever we found that was of interest to each other, we would trade. Now, this was a very informal deal. First of all, she wasn't supposed to open commission records to anyone outside, but at the same time, someone was offering to help her. So this was really a mutual advantage kind of thing. And very, very quickly over the next week or so, we started working very closely together. And I would go over to the commission offices and she would show me things that she thought might interest me. At the very beginning it was, everything was coming from her. I didn't have any records to offer in exchange. What I had was some legal training to help her understand the documents dealing with the lawsuits that came out of the internment and the legal issues, how, all of that kind of stuff.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

LB: So during this, it sounds like just a few day period, the idea for the book really started to gel, and it sounds like you started to feel as if this was something that you were really going to pursue?

PI: And I also realized that when I started looking at the records Aiko had from the solicitor's office of the War Relocation Authority, that there was another body of records that I really needed if I was going to make a book out of this. And there were really three things, one was the War Relocation Authority, one was the Department of Justice, which had prosecuted the internment cases, Hirabayashi, Korematsu, Yasui cases and a number of others that didn't reach the Supreme Court, and the third were records from the Supreme Court itself. One thing that I had some experience in, from my own case, my coram nobis case, was getting records from the Department of Justice. But I also knew that it was very time-consuming and usually you'd have to go to court. When I was in the archives, and there were a number of references and copies, in fact, in the WRA files of Department of Justice records that I found references to those files, file numbers for each of these cases. But they weren't in the archives. All that the archives had was a little card catalog of 3 x 5 sheets of paper. They weren't even cards. Little sheets of paper with case names and case numbers, all the cases the Department of Justice had handled during the 1930s and '40s. But they didn't have the records themselves.

So I either called up or went over to see the FOIA person in the Justice Department, which was right next door to the National Archives across the street, and explained to that person that I wanted to get the case files for the internment cases and I had the case file numbers. And the person I talked to, I don't recall his name, but he was helpful in the sense of not saying, "Well, you can't have that," or "it'll take a lot of time to review." He said, "Well, I don't know where it is, but I'll try to find out and get back to you." Because at this time I had no notion at all of anything more than an academic book. I had no notion that there would be any lawsuits. I had no notion even if the people involved, Gordon Hirabayashi, Fred Korematsu, Min Yasui, Mitsuye Endo or some of the others were even alive or where they were. My notion was simply to use the government's records and write a book, sort of a post-mortem on these cases. The guy in the Justice Department told me that he could not find these files, but he would keep looking.

My time in Washington was about to run out. So I went back to Boston, still not sure whether there was enough material to write a book. And while I, and I was teaching then and just sort of waiting. And I got a telephone call one day from the Justice Department. Said, "We have found the case files." I said, "Wow. Where were they?" And this guy said, "You'll never believe this, but they were out in a warehouse in Maryland." And they had been mistakenly put in the records of another agency, the Wartime Property Management Office or something like that that had nothing to do with the internment. But they had been put in these records, and there was just this one little sheet of paper that said, "Sent to -- " wherever the file was. And he had called out there, and they said, "Yes, the records with that case number are out here." And he said, "If you want to, you can come down to Washington to look at them." I said, "Great. I'll be down as soon as I can make it." And in fact, I went down just within a week or so. And they had said, "Well, you can look at these records. We will bring them to the Commerce Department," because that's where they had been misfiled with records of the Commerce Department, even though they originally were Justice Department records. Said, "You can look at them in the Freedom of Information Office at the Commerce Department." I said, "Okay." And I told Aiko that I was coming back down to Washington, and they had located these files. I still didn't know what was in them, was there anything useful. I'd gone through enough government litigation files working on my first book to know that many of them are just dead ends, nothing of any great interest. And sometimes you find great stuff.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

PI: So I went there one day -- it was the Calvin Coolidge Building in Washington -- into the FOIA office and with the name of the person who was in charge, and I asked for that person and somebody said, "Well, she's out sick today." I said, "Well, I'm supposed to look at some records here." And they said, "Oh, yeah, they're over there. And since she's not here today, why don't you use her desk?" And because the Commerce Department really had no inkling of what this was all about and they're not used to anything that is very sensitive or controversial, nobody had anticipated, really even knew who I was or why I was there, simply that I was to look at some records. Normally they screen records before anybody is allowed to look at them, and that hadn't been done. So this was another total accident that the FOIA person who normally would have screened these records beforehand, or at least called the Justice Department and said, "Should I let anybody look at these -- " wasn't there.

So I sat down. And there were probably four or five cardboard boxes, regular cardboard box sizes, not the modern kind of document boxes, very sturdy, but just ordinary cardboard boxes. And someone had written in marker the case numbers on the boxes. And they were all tied together with string. And it was perfectly obvious that nobody had ever opened these boxes since they were initially stored because they were all dusty. No evidence that anybody had ever untied the string or looked inside. So I decided just to sit down and start going through them. And I picked out the box that said Korematsu v. United States. And I thought I would start with that one. It wasn't the first case, but I picked a file, and the box was full of manila folders. And I picked a file, just the first one on the top of the box, and opened it up. And there was a memo -- this was literally the first page I looked at of all these records, the first file. It may have been the second or third, but almost in the first five minutes that I was looking at these records, I found a memo. And it was written by a government Justice Department lawyer named Edward Ennis. And it was written to the solicitor general of the United States, Charles Fahy at that time. I knew their names already from WRA records that I'd looked at earlier, that Aiko and I had gone through from the WRA. And in that memo, which was a memo to the solicitor general who was preparing to argue the Korematsu case before the Supreme Court in 1944, Ennis said, "We are in possession of information that shows that the War Department's report on the internment is a lie. And we have an ethical obligation not to tell a lie to the Supreme Court, and we must decide whether to correct that record." And looking at that document, I still remember vividly thinking, "Oh, my God. This is amazing. This is like a smoking gun." Here's a lawyer for the government about to be, in a case about to be argued before the Supreme Court saying, "We are telling lies to the Supreme Court." And if I had only been a historian, I probably would have said, "Well, this is very interesting." Add something to my book. But as a lawyer, I realized this is, and in fact, the memo said, "This may approximate the suppression of evidence." As a lawyer, I realized this is dynamite.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

PI: Now, the question was, was I going to do anything with this other than use it for a book? I knew right away that I had to share this with Aiko, that it would be of interest to the commission. And I also knew that I didn't have much time to go through these records before somebody might come over and say, "Can I look at what you're, review what you're looking at?" So that one day -- I think this was in late September of 1981 -- that one day I worked as hard as I could all day long just going through records, files, as fast as I could, looking for information. I found a lot more that I thought showed some evidence that the government, first in the Korematsu case and the Hirabayashi case, had been engaged in misconduct, legal misconduct. The memo I first saw from Edward Ennis showed that quite clearly. And so I would go through these records as fast as I could, clipping them with paper clips and little slips of paper, the ones that I wanted. And my instructions were that at the end of the day I could turn these over, and they would have them copied and sent to me in Boston at some point. But I became deathly afraid that somebody would say, "We can't let these out," and it would take months or years and maybe even another lawsuit to get them. So what I did is I called Aiko at the commission that morning, and I said, "Aiko, I found some really amazing stuff here in the Justice Department files, and you really need to see this." And if I remember correctly, either I made photocopies sort of surreptitiously at the Commerce Department. I think actually that's what happened, or Aiko came down there and picked them up, one or the other. But at any rate, I got copies of maybe fifty pages of the most important material and got those out of the Commerce Department building that day. Took them over to the commission. And Aiko went back later on with her commission badge and authority to get more records that I had not been able to copy. But in that first day, we found or I found and gave to Aiko the documents that really became the basis of the coram nobis cases. And at that point I thought about the possibility of reopening the cases through coram nobis. It made a connection in my mind, but what I did not know was are any of these people still alive? Where would they be? Would they have any interest at all in reopening their cases? And I decided to contact them.

LB: When you decided to contact them, were you contacting them because you thought there was a case, or had you thought about talking to them as part of writing...

PI: Both.

LB: ...your book?

PI: Both. Both. I had initially wanted to contact them just to interview them for the book. But this all happened so quickly in this research, literally within a few weeks, that I also wanted to talk to them about the prospect of reopening their cases.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

PI: Now, at the same time when I first met Aiko and visited the commission in Washington, I met with their research director, a man named Charles Smith, and he told me that the commission had completed most of their, their hearings, particularly on the West Coast in Seattle and Portland and San Francisco and Los Angeles and a couple of others, and I think one in New York. But that they had planned one final session which would deal with the legal issues of the internment, and this would be held in Boston, actually in Cambridge at Radcliffe College in December, mid-December of 1981. And I had put together enough material by that time on the misconduct in the internment cases that I volunteered to testify before the commission. And I went back to Boston with this material and put together a statement, probably eight or ten pages long, to the commission and was invited to testify. Went to the hearing. And I remember during that hearing being asked, in the statement that I prepared, I'd raised the possibility of coram nobis as a remedy for the government's misconduct. And I remember being asked by Commissioner Bill Marutani, the only Japanese American member of the commission, also a lawyer -- he was then a judge, a municipal judge in Philadelphia -- who said, "I'm very interested in the statement about what you said about the prospect of coram nobis." And we discussed that, and at that point, I think, while I was testifying, I decided to go ahead as far as I could to see if we could actually bring coram nobis cases. He was very encouraging about this.

So I contacted, and I think I had already contacted Min Yasui, but I had not contacted Gordon Hirabayashi or Fred Korematsu. So I tracked down where they were. I had already, I interviewed Min Yasui in Washington, D.C. I think he'd come to Washington to do some commission business or maybe it was Japanese American Citizens League. But, at any rate I'd met him there and talked with him. And he was, I would say, basically un-encouraging about coram nobis. And his attitude basically was -- but it wasn't discouraging. His attitude was, "Well, I don't think there's anything here. And I don't think this could actually succeed, but if you want to go ahead, that's fine with me. And it, who knows what might happen." So that was his attitude. At the same time, Min, and I'd asked him, "Well, if this actually turns into some kind of legal project -- " Obviously I can't do it myself. I was then living in Boston. "What lawyers do you know on the West Coast who might be able to help?" And Min gave me a list of lawyers, starting with a friend of his in Los Angeles named Frank Chuman, who had written a book about the legal issues of the internment and Japanese Americans or Asian Americans. And I contacted Frank Chuman, and he gave me the names of more lawyers, one of whom was Dale Minami in San Francisco. Dale, in fact, was the only lawyer I think that he gave me the name of who was in San Francisco. And I knew, of course, that we would need somebody in San Francisco. Now, at the same time, I was then, I had accepted the job at the University of California, although I wouldn't move out there until the next fall. So I thought it would be a good idea to start putting together legal teams to work on these cases and also finding out if the original defendants were interested. I knew by this time that they were all still alive. I had already talked to Min Yasui. So I called up Gordon Hirabayashi, who was then living in Edmonton, Alberta, and over the phone told him that I had found some documents that might be, it might be possible to reopen his case. Well, Gordon turned out to have already heard of coram nobis. In fact, he said, "Well, there were some lawyers years ago who, at the University of Washington Law School and other places," -- and Frank Chuman was one of them -- "who had explored the possibility of coram nobis. But they didn't have any, they didn't think it would work. They didn't have any evidence to work with." All they knew was that the cases were wrong, but that wasn't enough. You can't go back to court and say, "Well, the Supreme Court was wrong. Let's start over." So Gordon said he would be very glad to see me if I came out there.

And I was then planning a trip that would start in Canada, in Alberta, talking to Gordon, go to Seattle to do some research at the University of Washington library, which had files relating to Gordon's case, then down to San Francisco, where Fred Korematsu lived. Then to Los Angeles to talk to Frank Chuman, and then to San Diego to do my job interview at the University of California. All of this would be paid for by the university so it fit in very nicely. So I made this trip. I started out, but the problem was that I had sent several letters. Took me a long time to find out Fred Korematsu's address. He was not listed in the telephone book or I couldn't find him. And I called up the ACLU in San Francisco and said, "I'm trying to locate Fred Korematsu." And the director there said, "Well, other people have tried that over the years, and he's never been willing to talk to anybody." But she did offer to give me his address and phone number. I sent him several letters that he did not respond to. So finally just before I was leaving on this trip, I called him up, told him I was coming to San Francisco, would very much like to talk to him. And Fred was very cagey. He wouldn't say "yes." He wouldn't say "no." But he did say, "Well, if you're here, call me up and we'll see if we can arrange something." And it literally wasn't until I got to San Francisco and called Fred up and said, "I'm here in San Francisco. In fact, I just talked to Ernie Besig of the ACLU who assisted you in getting a lawyer when you were arrested." Apparently that impressed him. And he said, "Well, I might be able to see you tonight if you can come over." And it wasn't even like, oh yeah, come on over, let's talk. And as it turned out, Fred had been asked by many people to talk about his experiences, but he always had felt, as he told me, "Well, what good is this going to do? This is all over. There's nothing really..." Fred had thought for years, as Gordon had and Min Yasui, of maybe there's some way we can reopen these cases, but nobody knew exactly how to do that or had any material that could make that possible. And when I talked to Gordon Hirabayashi, he was very enthusiastic. He said, "Okay. Whatever you want to do, go ahead. I'm with you." And even Min Yasui, although not overly encouraging, was willing to cooperate.

And Fred was the key to the whole thing. I had felt all along that this would never be feasible or have any chance of succeeding unless all three of them agreed to do this together and to coordinate things. So that first meeting with Fred Korematsu was very crucial, and I was very nervous when I went over there. And I remember I took a taxicab over to Fred's place in San Leandro, little, small house. And I remember walking up and hearing this dog barking, ruff-ruff-ruff-ruff-ruff-ruff. Fred had a little, little dog that he'd had for years. He loved this little dog, but the dog barked and Fred answered the door. And for a minute I wasn't even sure that he remembered that I was going to come. But he said, "Well, come on in. My wife's not here. She's out, so we've got the living room to ourselves." And we sat down. And I sat there. Fred didn't even offer me anything to drink or eat, but just sit down and like, you can tell me what you want, and I'll listen. And so for probably twenty minutes I tried to explain to him what the documents were that I'd found. And he said, "Can I see them?" And I put together a packet of about twenty pages of these Justice Department documents. Now, Fred didn't have any legal training, but he sat there puffing on his pipe, looking, not saying anything, looking at them. And then he said, looked up, and he said, totally out of the blue, "Are you a lawyer?" And I thought he already knew that I was a lawyer, but I said, "Yes, I am a lawyer." And he said, "Would you be, would you like to be my lawyer?" And I said, "Sure." And then we started talking about -- and at that point he literally opened up and relaxed. We both did. And he had agreed to go ahead with this. And so then I tried to explain to him what might happen, how much work there was to do, how there was no guarantee that this would succeed. It might take a long time. And the only thing he was really concerned about was he didn't want, as he said, he didn't want TV cameras parked in his front yard. He did not want a lot of publicity. I tried to explain. I said, "Fred, one thing that will probably happen is that there will be publicity. And I will try, I'll do what I can to make sure that this doesn't intrude on your family." But one reason that we want to do this, and I had already contacted lawyers in San Francisco, one reason we wanted to do this is to bring the public's attention to what happened.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

LB: Before we get into talking about the cases themselves, can you tell me if you ever thought about contacting Mitsuye Endo?

PI: Yes.

LB: Or if you had tried?

PI: I did. I in fact never found her address or phone number. People simply, people told me, and I think Frank Chuman was the first, "She simply won't talk about this." I knew that she had moved to the Chicago area, that she'd gotten married, and I'm pretty sure she had changed her name or gotten a new last name. I never actually did contact her directly. And I also decided to make the focus of the book -- because I was still writing a book about these cases -- make the focus on the three cases that, Gordon and Min and Fred had, had brought. In the book, by the time I finished writing the book, I, I had discussed the Endo case and some of the other cases that never got to the Supreme Court, of people who were prosecuted or people who pleaded guilty to violating the curfew or evacuation orders, but the focus was really on these three cases.

LB: You had, I want to just clarify the chronology of the time that you started communicating with Dale Minami in San Francisco and when you met Fred, Gordon, and Min. Had you already talked to Dale and started to talk to other attorneys to work on the case?

PI: I don't think at the time I first met with Fred, which was in early January of 1982, that I had contacted any of the lawyers. I'm pretty sure that I had a list of names that I'd gotten from Frank Chuman. But I think I had decided not to contact anybody until I knew that we were going to go ahead.

LB: So, why don't you tell me now about contacting these other lawyers to work on the case. You had said earlier that you knew that you wouldn't be able to do these cases on your own.

PI: Yeah. Also at the time I first talked to Gordon and Min and Fred, I didn't know that I was going to move to San Diego. In fact, I went down from San Francisco to San Diego for that job interview. By the time I got back to Boston, I knew within a few days that I was going to take this job. That, of course, would make things a whole lot easier. So at that point -- and I literally don't remember the dates, but at that point, probably in late January or early February of '82, I contacted, in fact, I wrote a letter to Dale Minami, telling him -- introducing myself -- telling him that I had talked to Gordon and Fred, particularly Fred, and also asking him, I think, if he knew lawyers in Portland and Seattle. I knew Arthur Barnett in Seattle. In fact, I'd talked to him on that first trip, interviewed him. But Arthur was not in a position because mostly of his age, to really take a major role in a coram nobis case. So I got the names, I'm pretty sure from Dale Minami, of lawyers in Portland and Seattle to work with. And I had agreed that, and we had exchanged a number of letters, and I'd sent copies of documents. And Dale had sent back to me a copy of the statement -- actually a rather thick, lengthy statement -- that Bay Area Attorneys for Redress had put together for the commission. When the commission held hearings in San Francisco, this group called Bay Area Attorneys for Redress which Dale was very much act, involved in, had put together a statement about the internment cases, the Supreme Court cases, basically saying that these cases were so bad, so obviously wrong, that something should be done. In fact, they had suggested that the Supreme Court be asked directly to reverse the decisions simply on the ground that a terrible injustice had been committed.

Now, when Dale sent me that statement and we started corresponding, we quickly realized that the best way to do this was coram nobis. When we started out, none of the other lawyers had any experience with or knowledge of coram nobis, and I had written a memo explaining what it was about, how it worked, using my own case as an example -- a six- or seven-page memorandum. This became the basis, the real beginning of our legal research effort, which was really divided into two parts, one was evidence, the documents themselves, and second was the coram nobis procedure. So we agreed that since I wasn't scheduled to move to San Diego until August of '82, that I would come out as soon as I could arrange it. I think I had some small grant money available for travel, that I would come out to San Francisco. And I'm pretty sure that was in May of 1982, the first time I came out and visited. And Dale had set up a meeting of lawyers who were interested in working on this project.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

LB: Can you tell me about that initial meeting?

PI: Well, my memories of it are... Dale met me at the airport. I think Dennis Hayashi was with him and maybe Don Tamaki, but at any rate, Dale and Dennis. And I got off the plane. They didn't know who I was, what I looked like. Back in those days I had a beard, sort of very gray, almost white beard, and I must have looked like Methuselah. And I was also pretty formally dressed. I don't know if I had on my three-piece lawyer suit. But at any rate, it took a while to, I recognized them before they recognized me. And we started right away talking about, we were on our way to the meeting, talking about what we were going to do. And the meeting was in Oakland at, I think at Dale's office in Oakland, or the, the Asian Law Caucus office, which was also in Oakland. I forget which of those places we had our first meeting. But I do remember that meeting just being sort of an introduction of me to probably six or eight people, maybe ten. Lawyers, law students who wanted to work on this at least to see what we were, what we could do -- and a brainstorming session.

And it went on, it was a pretty long meeting, all day, into the evening. And at the conclusion of that meeting, I think we had pretty much agreed, first of all, that we would go ahead, that this would take three separate cases, three separate legal teams. One of the original things we discussed was, should we combine them all in one and file it in one court? And it could have been the federal court in San Francisco, it could have been the U.S. Court of Appeals, which was the first court that handled all three cases together in the 1940s, or the Supreme Court. That was a decision we didn't make right away. But we decided that we needed at least to set up legal teams or involve lawyers in Portland and Seattle. And then I had, I could only spend one or two days in San Francisco, and I had to go back to Boston because I was teaching at the time. So that initial meeting, I'm pretty sure that there were some decisions made about delegating various responsibilities. One of them, either at that meeting or the next meeting we had, was that Don Tamaki would pretty much handle fundraising and publicity, that Lori Bannai and I would handle the evidence and the documents, and that legal research would be handled, I'm pretty sure the people on that team were Dennis Hayashi and, I can't remember who else was going to work with him.

LB: Bob Rusky.

PI: And Bob Rusky, of course. How could I forget? And Karen Kai, his wife.

AI: Excuse me. Just to clarify, I wanted to make sure and ask Lori. You were at this first meeting, is that right?

LB: Uh-huh.

AI: And so was this the first time that the two of you met?

LB: Right.

PI: Right.

AI: Thank you.

PI: And I do remember at some point either, maybe that meeting was in Dale's living room in his apartment in Oakland, because I do remember that we took breaks and we would play Pac Man, which was the very first video game ever. Dale had a Pac Man thing, and I played Pac Man with you, as a matter of fact. And Dale had a little basketball net set up in his -- he had a very spacious living room in his apartment -- with Nerf balls, and shoot hoops with Nerf balls. I do remember that we had those little breaks because this was a long and pretty intense meeting. Everybody was really working hard to get as much done, as many decisions made, plans set before I had to go back to Boston.

LB: So what were your impressions of this group of lawyers you had clearly never met before which you're describing as certainly a mix of, certainly very serious business and some fun, too.

PI: Well, one thing I decided very quickly was that these lawyers were really good lawyers. They knew what they were doing and they had tremendous commitment, personal commitment, too, because for almost all of them, their parents or grandparents had been in the internment camps. This for them was a personal crusade in a way, but also as lawyers. And I also realized that very quickly, that I did not want to be the knight on the white horse coming in to take over or direct or lead the coram nobis effort. I knew what my skills were, research skills basically, and I knew the coram nobis procedure. That was about it. But I didn't know anything about actual litigation aside from handling my own cases, freedom of information cases, my draft case. I had no courtroom experience and certainly not anything this complex that would involve several different courts possibly. And so we decided that there would be a director or coordinator or lead counsel. If we did these in three separate cities, there would be a different lead counsel in each city. If we did them all in San Francisco, combined them, there would be one lead counsel. And the decision was made very quickly, and I don't think it was even voted on or discussed very much, that Dale Minami would be the lead counsel. He had the most experience. He was older by a very small margin than most of the other lawyers, and had his own firm and had experience in federal litigation.

LB: Prior, to back up before we move further into the litigation, prior to the meeting as you were coming in on the airplane, did you have any concerns about, in essence, handing over what you saw was a very significant case to a group of people who you didn't know at all?

PI: Well, I did have some concerns. One of them was, quite frankly, that I didn't want to hand the case over to a group of lawyers that I didn't know, and then be told, "Well, we'll let you know what happens." I really wanted to be involved. And I wanted to be as actively involved as anybody else. And there was some of my own ego involved in this. After all, I was the one who had found this evidence. I was the one who, and of course, there was other evidence that became very important in the case that was not my discovery, mostly from Aiko Yoshinaga and Jack Herzig, working with the commission. But that this was going to be a really joint effort. Otherwise, it wasn't going to work. That I would have to be, feel comfortable working with these people that I'd never known before, and they would have to feel comfortable with me. But it didn't take very long at all in that first meeting to realize that this would work out. There were a lot of decisions that couldn't be made at that first meeting, but the one thing that impressed me was how well-organized everybody was. I had never been, I had always worked by myself and still do on most of my projects. I am not well-organized, and these lawyers were really well-organized, and that impressed me tremendously. There were charts made up, you know these charts with boxes, who was going to do this, who was going to do that, time charts, when we would try to get this completed and move on to the next step. Lots of contingency plans. And so I felt very quickly that this was really going to, whatever the outcome was going to be, it was really going to be done very well by really well-trained people.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

LB: Just before we took a break, you started talking about the first meeting that you had with the legal team and plans that started to get made. Can you tell us, give us kind of a flavor for what kinds of work the legal team and teams worked on after that first meeting?

PI: Well, after the first meeting -- and we had pretty much set up three work teams, one dealing with documents and evidence, one with legal research, procedure, and one with outside relations, fundraising. We realized quite soon that this would take a fair amount of money. We had no idea how much at the time. Everybody was working pro bono, but there were expenses. Fortunately Bob Rusky's law firm, one of the big law firms in San Francisco, volunteered a lot of support, clerical support, supplies, and things like that. But there was travel, there were travel expenses and other things that we needed money for. And also to do publicity and to coordinate with other groups to try to make this a, build a coalition and make it part of the overall redress movement. We decided very quickly this was not going to be separate. It would become part of the whole redress movement.

Now, one of the problems we had to deal with was the redress movement, of course was already in place and many organizations -- Japanese American Citizens League, NCRR, the National Committee for Redress and Reparations, and other groups were working on redress, and we weren't quite sure how to relate to them. And this was an aspect that I was not directly involved in. So, whatever I know about it is clouded by memory and also hearsay. I do recall that there were considerable difficulties in working with the Japanese American Citizens League, partly because of a feeling that there was a possibility that they might in a sense try to co-op the coram nobis team or take it over, or try to direct what we were doing. And also a feeling of some people, and I think Fred Korematsu was one of these, that the JACL was not an organization that they felt comfortable working with. And a lot of these problems, of course went back forty years. This was all handled, and I think handled extremely well by Don Tamaki, who had started out without any real experience in fundraising. He'd worked with the Asian Law Caucus and had to raise money for that, but particularly the publicity effort. Nobody had ever been involved in anything that would generate as much national publicity as we wound up getting. Don put all this together. My own work, mostly on the documents aspect of this, once, and I don't recall a lot of work being done over the summer of 1982. I think our initial plan was that we would file the petitions -- once the decision had been made to file a petition in the Korematsu case in San Francisco in the federal court -- that we would file that I think late in 1982, hopefully before the end of the year. And we realized that this wasn't going to work. There was just too much to do. Once I moved out to San Diego from Boston in, I think, August of 1982, I started commuting almost weekly to San Francisco for meetings. And we were working in sort of parallel tracks on the various work teams but starting to put things together. One thing we decided to do was that we would put together both a petition and supporting documents, that this was really, there was too much to just put in one petition and drop this on some federal judge's desk.

So all of this work was going on at a time when I was also teaching full-time at the University of California. And I felt, I very much enjoyed the meetings in San Francisco and coming up, but I also felt a little bit outside. Everybody else there would meet sometimes two or three times a week. There was a lot going on. I wasn't always privy to what was happening aside from my one part. I didn't feel shut out by any means, but I did feel that I was a little bit separated from the San Francisco team. And I also didn't know much about what was happening with the teams in Portland and Seattle aside from the fact that they had decided that we would file our petitions in order, not all on the same day, but in order, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle. And we were hoping, and I think we had requested, I can't remember, that the judge in San Francisco would consolidate the three cases and hear them together. But we didn't, we wouldn't know the outcome of that until they had been filed. So at any rate, we were all working very hard on these cases. There was still this spirit of great excitement and camaraderie, lots of dinner meetings and getting together, socializing, having drinks, and trying to relax. It was a very, very exciting time for me.

And there were also come complications during this time. One that I remember in particular was that I, and probably some other people viewed Min Yasui as a loose cannon, partly because he did not agree, as both Gordon and Fred had agreed, to have everything coordinated and to let Don Tamaki be the official spokesperson for the coram nobis teams. Min would shoot off his mouth. He was irrepressible. And there was really nothing we could do about this. But one thing that happened was that somehow a story appeared in the Washington Post sometime in the fall of 1982, quoting former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg as saying that he, as saying, "Well, I understand that there are going to be petitions filed with the Supreme Court asking that the wartime internment cases be reversed." He had his facts wrong. But he said, "I think this is very dangerous and should not be done." Goldberg was also a member of the Commission on Wartime Relocation. I thought at the time that Min Yasui was behind this in some way or at least had leaked this or talked to or somehow been responsible for this story, which we at the time felt was potentially very damaging to us. And I don't know ultimately who had instigated that, but I do recall that it caused a lot consternation on the legal team that people were going outside, speaking without checking, clearing things, and the whole thing threatened to become a public relations disaster.

LB: So this was prior to the filing of the petition?

PI: Right. This was prior to the filing of the petition.

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

<Begin Segment 18>

LB: Can you tell me some about, what you recall about the filing of the petition?

PI: Well, I do recall filing the petition vividly. I recall that we were still working out of Dale's office in Oakland, or the Asian Law Caucus, both of them in Oakland, and that we were going to file a petition in federal court in downtown San Francisco. And we had picked the day, I forget precisely what day it was, in January of 1983, and that we would, all the lawyers or as many as had the time that day would go to the federal court and file the petition. And Don Tamaki had organized a press conference at the San Francisco Press Club right after we filed the petition, to hold our first public press conference. And that I think all three of the petitioners, Gordon, Fred, and Min were going to be there at that press conference. And so we piled in the cars in Oakland and drove across the Bay Bridge to the federal courthouse.

And at that time, and I think it's still the case, at least in the larger federal courts, cases are assigned randomly by a computer to judges. Now, we knew that there were eighteen or twenty judges in that district, a very large federal district, and we had no idea which judge would get the case. And we went into the clerk's office, and we had, I think ten, at least ten copies of both the petition and the documents, which was a big stack of papers. And we had already called the clerk of the court to alert him that we were coming in. We were not allowed to and we hadn't arranged to have the press there. They weren't allowed into the court building itself, outside the lobby. But, so we all piled in. And on the drive over from Oakland -- and I don't remember if you, Lori, were in that car or not, but Dale and I were talking and Don, who should actually hand the petition to the clerk? And the clerk would then, of course, stamp the documents and ask the computer to assign the case to a judge. And we were very much hoping that we would get a good judge, quite obviously. And I think one of us, I think it was me, said, "Why don't we let Lori actually file the petition because I'm not lucky. I've never won anything." If I've ever used a slot machine or betted on anything, I've never won. And I think Dale said, "Oh, Lori's very lucky." So that was the decision, if I remember correctly, that you would file the petition, hand it to the clerk.

And so we went up there, and we were all sort of very animated on the elevator up, very excited. And we got into the clerk's office and probably six or eight of us in there. And we handed over the petitions. And the clerk or one of the assistant clerks took the documents and went back to wherever it was, some other office, to have the case assigned. And I do remember the clerk or the assistant clerk coming out -- and we're all waiting very anxiously in the outer office -- and saying to us, "Congratulations. You got Judge Patel." And the clerk knew that that would be very, that we would be very pleased with that. Judge Marilyn Hall Patel on the federal court in San Francisco was probably, if we could choose, would have been the judge we would've picked. One reason was that we knew that she had a strong civil rights background. She'd worked for the National Organization for Women doing legal work for them. She'd been appointed by President Jimmy Carter. She was known as a supporter of civil liberties. Her husband was East Indian by ancestry. She had a lot of experience with racial and ethnic minorities. And we just felt that she would be a really good judge for this case.

So that put us all in a really good mood. And we were jumping up and down, and if I remember we were all giving each other high-fives, you know. And so we then went back down, piled into our cars, and went over to the press club for the press conference. And for me, that was a very significant experience. Don Tamaki was the master of ceremonies at the press conference, introduced everybody. We had not expected as many reporters to show up, TV camera people, to show up for that press conference. We were just astounded. And of course, a lot of preparation had been made, but you never know, until something actually happens, who is actually going to show up. Is this going to be a story? Is it going to be in more than the San Francisco newspapers? And when we discovered that the TV networks were there, the national networks, this was going to generate the kind of publicity that we had really hoped for.

The press conference went very, very well. I remember speaking at the press conference about the documents and the evidence that the government had lied to the Supreme Court and withheld evidence from the Supreme Court. And I also remember in particular Min Yasui, who spoke and was his usual very animated self. And I remember him pounding on this table at the press conference, saying, saying, "I remember rotting for nine months in solitary confinement in the Multnomah County Jail in Portland, Oregon." And just, he was really agitated. By this time I think Min was back on the team, and he would talk about, call me aside whenever we spoke and he'd say, "Aren't these kids wonderful?" Speaking of the younger lawyers. He always referred to them as "the kids." And, Gordon and Fred both spoke at the press conference and I think really impressed, the whole thing went off perfectly from our point of view. We got tremendous publicity in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the national TV networks. And in a way that was half of the battle. The courtroom was the other half. But just getting the publicity to let people know what we were doing, why we were doing it, and what the significance of it was, was very, very important.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

LB: Obviously that was one highlight of the case for you. Are there any other significant moments in the case or turning points that come to mind to you now?

PI: There were a couple. One was that I had gone back to Washington and had made a request -- when you file a lawsuit you're entitled to discovery, that is, to get documents from the other side, on both sides. We had all the documents we thought we needed for the petition, but there were other documents in the Justice Department that we had not been able to locate or thought we might be able to find that might be helpful to us. And I recall that I made an appointment to meet with the Justice Department attorney who was handling the case for the government, a man named Victor Stone. And I recall meeting with him. And it was from the very first minute a very antagonistic and hostile meeting. We did not like each other. I thought he was extremely hostile, rude, and basically a nasty person. I always thought that about him. And I guess he didn't like me either. So it was a meeting where he literally tried to give me as little as possible. And I don't think actually that we got anything from that that was useful to the case. But I did form the impression early on that the government was not going to be very cooperative or helpful. I also got the impression, it was not necessarily because Victor Stone was not a nice person, but also that there were political factors involved.

We filed this petition when Ronald Reagan was president, and we felt that the Reagan administration would not be supportive either of coram nobis or of the redress movement as a whole. And the government could have joined the petition or at least not opposed the petition. We felt that we had such overwhelming evidence that the government had committed misconduct back in the 1940s in these cases that any reasonable lawyer would say, "We can't dispute this. This evidence in fact all comes from our own files. So what are we going to do?" And the, the generous, ethical thing to do would be to say, "We have reviewed this petition and the documents," -- preferably have the attorney general say this -- "and concluded that a grave injustice was done. The government in fact will join the petition asking the federal judge to reverse or vacate these convictions." We didn't really expect to that happen. But what we got from the government through Victor Stone, was trying to weasel out of any responsibility and minimizing the case. And as Victor Stone said in court, "These are things that happened forty years ago." Basically, who cares? In fact, he did say that in court once in Seattle during the trial in Gordon Hirabayashi's case. He said, "Your Honor, these are events that happened more than forty years ago, and the government does not feel that this is of any great importance." And there was an audible intake of breath in the courtroom. How could he say something like that? So that's one aspect of this, the very unpleasant, hostile relations we had with the government lawyers all through these cases. In a way it motivated us. In fact, we developed, we gave Victor Stone a nickname. We called him "The Weasel," and we made fun of him privately. I don't know if that was reciprocated on their side. But at any rate, the idea that well, now we have even more reason to push as hard as we can to win these cases.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

PI: The other significant thing I recall is the actual hearing before Judge Patel in San Francisco. And that to me was very powerful, emotional impact. I was not going to say anything in court -- that was Dale's job -- except to be at the counsel table. But we had arranged, and Judge Patel, I think herself had arranged to use the largest, the ceremonial courtroom they call it, in the federal courthouse in San Francisco that holds the most people, about 300 seats in that courtroom. And it's normally used by the Federal Court of Appeals. But we were using that courtroom, and it was absolutely packed. And people showed up who I don't think had been in a courtroom before or in fact people who had been in the internment camps and hadn't seen other people for many years. There were people I remember who recognized each other. "Oh, my God, you were in the camp." People hugging each other. So it was a very, very, very important aspect.

Before the hearing, Judge Patel had tried to, had had a meeting with the lawyers in her chambers and had tried to persuade Victor Stone to make a definitive stand on the part of the government. Were they going to oppose the petition, join the petition, or what? And he kept trying to get out of it. He kept saying, "I've got to go call my office in Washington." And we were very frustrated by that. He finally came back. And when Judge Patel called the case and we started out as the petitioners, Dale Minami spoke first and basically reviewed the petition and what was in it. And then to my surprise -- and I don't know if this had been arranged in advance -- but Judge Patel asked Fred Korematsu if he would like to make a statement. This normally does not happen. Defendants are not, this was not a trial. It was a hearing and usually only the lawyers talk. But Judge Patel asked Fred if he would like to speak. And Fred got up and gave a very short statement, but it was probably the most, the most powerful statement I've heard in person. The only other thing I can, that matches it for me is being, standing at the foot of the, of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington in 1963 when Dr. King gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. I was right there when he did that, and that was tremendously powerful.

Fred was not an orator like Martin Luther King, but in many ways even more impact because of his sort of inner humbleness. And I remember Fred saying, "Your Honor, I remember forty years ago when I was brought in handcuffs into this courtroom -- wasn't actually the same one, in San Francisco -- and treated as a criminal. And I was suspected because of my ancestry, and all persons of Japanese ancestry were suspected of being spies." And he said, "I remember being sent to the, to the assembly center, to the racetrack, and my family being there and staying in horse stalls." And Fred said, "These were made for horses, not for people." Says, "And I'll never forget my government treating me like this. And I really hope that this will never happen to anybody else because of the way they look, if they look like the enemy of our country." And it probably wasn't more than two or three minutes, but it was so powerful.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

PI: And then after Fred sat down and Victor Stone got up and said basically for a couple of minutes nothing at all, except that the government would not object to the conviction being vacated, but asked the judge to dismiss the petition. And at the conclusion, after he sat down, Judge Patel had already decided the case and read the statement that became the basis of her later written opinion about this. And she read it, and it was basically that the petition had raised serious issues of government misconduct. The record was there from the government's files. And one thing she said was, her last sentence, her paragraph, you know, "The Korematsu case remains on our law books, but it is a reminder to all of us of what can happen during wartime, that no group should be treated this way." And at the conclusion of that, she simply stood up and left the courtroom. And most of us for a brief, seemed like a while, just sat there sort of speechless. And then everybody got up and there was tremendous excitement. People were crying. Everybody was running up to congratulate Fred, pound him on the back. It was really almost like a, like a party. And then we had another press conference. We had one outside on the steps of the courthouse and then a more formal press conference -- I don't remember where it was, at which Fred spoke. And so that was, that particular aspect of the case, the Korematsu case in San Francisco, had, those were the memorable parts of it for me.

LB: What was your personal reaction, being the person who, who found the documents that started this? What was your, what were your personal feelings at the time you heard Judge Patel's opinion?

PI: Well, I remember being just flooded with emotion, being really overcome. I wasn't sure in fact that I could even speak to the press or anybody else. And I just felt overjoyed at what had happened. And in a way, of course, it occurred to me that this, I had started all of this without any real intention at the beginning. As I said, a whole series of fortuities and accidents building up, leading to this. But also just looking around. I remember sort of standing back and looking around at this audience, almost all Japanese American, and just seeing how much this affected them. It was sort of like a, a joint, a big collective catharsis, that as somebody once said, and I think it was Nikki Bridges, who was the wife of Harry Bridges, the leader of the Longshoremen's Union, and she -- Nikki was Japanese American, and this was all captured on film down in the lobby and outside the courthouse. Steve Okazaki was making a film about the cases in the coram nobis effort. And she said, "This is not just Fred's case. This is for all of us. This is for all Japanese Americans." And feeling that that was true. And I also felt, I guess more than I had before or ever in my life, that I had been included in a group that was not my own, you know, different ethnic group, a different racial group, a different, different in many ways, people that I might not otherwise have ever met or gotten to know, and that I, they had invited me in and included me in this group. And of course, I wouldn't become one of them just as they wouldn't become one of me. But that, that these, these artificial boundaries between us had in that experience sort of dissolved. And that was very important to me.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

LB: I think that's something that strikes me about so much of what you've talked about in these interviews. When you were working with Smith and working on race issues in the South and then working on the internment issues, you had very much been a white person working on race issues with members of those racial communities. Were there some unique aspects to working with an all-Asian American -- not an all-Asian American team, mostly Asian American, mostly Japanese American team -- for you?

PI: Well, there were in many of the same ways that when I was working in the Civil Rights movement and working with SNCC, being an outsider or at least different, and initially being very unsure. Would they like me? Would they welcome me in? Can we work together? Do they feel that I'm intruding in a way? And I'd felt this several times in the Civil Rights movement, particularly at the point when the black power movement started to become, take over and whites were excluded from SNCC. In fact SNCC expelled all its white members and staff at one point. And feeling well, maybe they, maybe the Japanese Americans or the Asian Americans just want to work with us but not include us in. And there were other Caucasians in the group, Bob Rusky being one of them. And I realized pretty soon that this wasn't going to happen. But for me, I've always felt that, not that I had to overcome my race because it's something, I mean, you can't overcome it. You just have to deal with it. But that it gave me much more of a sense of where I, where I came from. The fact that, not that I was trying to atone for anything or my ancestors' responsibilities, anything like that, but simply that I had to realize that I came out of a much different background culturally and in other ways.

One of the things, incidentally, about the whole coram nobis effort was all of the cultural things that I had to learn. You know, speech patterns and jokes, and in-jokes and things like that. I'd learned this earlier with black people, particularly when I was in prison. And you know how they talk to each other, and there's sort of a, in a way sort of a code when it's all just them or when they're letting somebody else in, things are a little different. And one thing I realized was that a lot of the stereotypes, as much as I prided myself on not having stereotypes, a lot of the stereotypes I had about Asian Americans, Asians in general -- not having known any really before I started working with the legal team -- that everybody would be sort of quiet and a little reserved and formal, were totally untrue. In fact, even if this was true to some extent in public settings, it was definitely not true in private. That people were just like anybody else, that people could be more uninhibited and raucous and laid back than, than anybody would ever suspect. And to me, as a fairly uptight person in general, this was very liberating, the idea that I didn't always have to be formal with people. So that was one aspect of it. It just personally that made an impact on me.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

LB: What I'd like to, we're kind of along the vein now of really kind of looking back on the case and thinking about the way it's impacted you. I'd like to know something about what you see now as the continuing significance of these cases legally, politically, and how you see these cases have impacted you personally.

PI: Well, before I do that, I do want to say something about the Hirabayashi trial, because although I was not involved directly, and the legal team in Seattle which was headed by Rod Kawakami handled it very differently than the San Francisco team had. And maybe I should say a little bit about that because from the beginning, we, I perceived that they were handling this in much more of a sort of lawyer-like fashion. That even though they did have an emphasis on publicity for their case, basically they were not going to go into court and saying, "Your Honor, this terrible injustice has been committed. The government's whole position reeks of misconduct and fraud and so forth." That they were going to be much more, basically saying the same things, but saying it in a different, very lawyer-like fashion. And I think that was true. But we had not anticipated at the beginning that there would actually be a trial, as it turned out there was in the Hirabayashi case. The hearing in San Francisco was basically just a hearing, one day.

In Portland -- and I attended the hearing before Judge Belloni in Portland, that Don Willner and Peggy Nagae were the attorneys who spoke there, was very different, very small courtroom. People in fact were threatened with being evicted if they didn't find seats. The judge was very hostile the whole time of the hearing. And the outcome was not very favorable to us. The petition, the vacation of Min Yasui's conviction was granted because the government had asked, had agreed to that. But Victor Stone, who appeared in all three cases, succeeded in Judge Belloni's not granting the petition, dismissing the petition. So basically we had one complete victory and one partial victory. And then we discovered that the government was going to fight tooth-and-nail against Gordon Hirabayashi's petition. I suspected that this was because of political developments in Washington, that at this point, particularly in the redress campaign but also the bad publicity that the government had been getting, that they decided to make a stand. And it turned out to be great for us because what the government did in putting on a full defense of their wartime, what they did during the war, was to show that there was no basis for it. And in a sense it was a testimony, I think, my personal feeling, to some very bad lawyering by the government. They screwed everything up from the very beginning. They didn't comply, Judge Donald Voorhees was presiding at that time. They didn't comply with any of his pretrial orders. They were late with everything. They would not cooperate with us. They basically antagonized the judge. They were even rude to the judge in court, which is inexcusable for a lawyer. They made statements, Victor Stone made statements about the judge outside the courtroom to the press which were very derogatory toward him. And I mean, basically poorly handled the whole way.

And on our side -- and this hearing lasted for two weeks. It extended over two weeks. Gordon Hirabayashi testified. Our prime witness was Edward Ennis, the Justice Department lawyer during the 1940s who had objected all along to the government's presentation of false, misleading evidence. And fortuitously, Edward Ennis was still alive, very willing and eager in fact to testify on our behalf, and he did a fantastic job. Victor Stone kept insinuating that Edward Ennis, being elderly, must have lost his memory and couldn't remember all these things. And Ennis was very clear, "I remember these things distinctly, Mr. Stone." And as it turned out, even though Judge Voorhees gave us a partial victory in vacating Gordon's conviction for violating the exclusion order but upholding his conviction for violating the curfew order on the ground that it was a minor offense, that gave us an opportunity to go into the Federal Court of Appeals, where we won again a complete victory.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

PI: This whole process took more than five years. And I don't think any of us anticipated at the very beginning how long it would take, how many people would be involved, how much work there was, and how much a, of an impact it would have on our own lives. A number of the lawyers, I remember Don Tamaki saying, "Years from now we'll think back on this and think, "We're never going to have another case like this." Regardless of what you do in your career, whether as a lawyer or something else, you're never going to have another experience like this." It's tremendous bonding not only of the legal teams, but the whole Japanese American community and outside it.

As for the long-term impact -- now that it's almost fifteen years since the last decision in the case, just to return once more to that time -- after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in our favor in Gordon's case, and produced an opinion much like Judge Patel's opinion in the Korematsu case, complete vindication, we still were lacking one thing. And we talked about this from the very beginning. Should we try to get into the Supreme Court? Should we try to have that court make a final statement on these cases, hopefully to reverse them, itself by the Supreme Court? And we did spend a good deal of time and had some meetings trying to decide on a strategy to do this. And we, we talked to and corresponded with a lot of constitutional law experts, and finally concluded that it was more risky than, the risks outweighed the potential benefits. There was some thought, since we could not appeal to the Supreme Court ourselves -- only the government could do that, and they gave up after the Ninth Circuit decision in 1986 -- whether we could ask the Court in a sort of extraordinary petition, hopefully one that would be signed by a lot of eminent law professors, to, on its own initiative, reverse the decisions or at least to ratify the decisions of the lower courts. And we finally decided that the risk of the Court simply dismissing that and the publicity that that would generate, people might think, well we had failed. So we decided not to do that. In retrospect, I think that was the correct decision because it was so unpredictable. But now, the redress movement succeeded in the sense that Congress passed the Redress Bill. The President signed the national apology. The redress checks were sent to the survivors of the internment camps. The fund was set up to carry on education about the internment, the Civil Liberties Education Fund or whatever it was called.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

PI: But almost an entire generation has grown up since the mid-1980s. I have students now who were just being born, just toddlers at that time. They have no memories of that, just as many people now have no memories of the 1960s, or the earlier Civil Rights movement or the Great Depression, things that their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents lived through. Things recede into history. And the real task as I see it, and I think the Densho Project is a very important part of this, is to keep this all alive in the best ways that we can, even if the people themselves -- and of course, Min Yasui has died. Fred and Gordon are still with us and very active. But as the years go by, generations change. And how do you keep alive something as important as the internment experience and the lessons that we learned from it? And it's not that easy to do because people don't, younger people do not have a direct personal connection to it. Some do through the memories of their parents and grandparents, but even those recede with time. And it becomes, "Oh, yes, I remember my grandmother was in the camps. My great-grandmother, or father was in the camps." But I think one way -- and I know I sound now like I'm preaching -- but one way to help keep this alive is to relate it to what's happening today, to make those connections that what happens today is a direct outgrowth of what happened in the past, even going back. I mean, I for example, think that much of what happens in this country today about race and race relations has its direct roots in slavery and that experience of what it did to our country and what it has done to all the people on both sides, white, black, and others as a result of that one experience.

The internment did not just affect Japanese Americans. It certainly didn't just affect Asian Americans. It affected everybody in the country because it was done by the American government. And so I think one of the lessons that has to be learned is that in time of war -- and this is exactly what Judge Patel said in her opinion -- in time of war or national emergency, passions are aroused. And any group can be singled out, whether it's Arab Americans, Cuban Americans, whatever group is now, what's happening, as we're speaking today, in the Mideast. What is our government going to do, or what can it do? Can the experience of the wartime internment help to prevent something like that from happening again? And I do not know. You would like to believe that the legal victories that we won would influence people who are thinking about taking similar kinds of steps. Say, "Well, we did this once, but it was wrong and legally it violated people's rights." But I don't think in crisis situations that anybody thinks about legal issues very much. That comes later. Maybe I'm unduly pessimistic about this, but the lessons of history, the lessons of history have to be learned over and over again. Roger Baldwin, who was the first director and helped found the American Civil Liberties Union right after World War I was fond of saying, "No civil liberties battle is ever finally won." And I think that's right. So the extent to which people can learn about this and hopefully be able to exert their personal influence, both personally and collectively, to educate coming generations about this and to use it as a lesson will be very helpful.

But I think all throughout what I've been saying is the notion that unexpected events happen. We cannot predict what their consequence or outcome is going to be. This was true of my own life all the way through, particularly my involvement in the Korematsu and Hirabayashi and Yasui cases, the whole coram nobis effort, not knowing what was going to happen next. Maybe having a vision of what I would like to happen, particularly when we got into it. We would like this all to come out the way it did. But I don't think any of us at the very beginning could have said this is what's going to happen. And I think that's true of most of life. The thing that we can hope for is that more and more people will realize how important it is to learn these lessons and to be willing to work and take sacrifices and risks of protecting what's most important to us, the values of our Constitution, even though during wartime and crisis, as John J. McCloy once said, "The Constitution is just a scrap of paper."

LB: [To Alice Ito] Did you have anything else you wanted to follow up on? All right.

AI: I think we've covered quite a bit of ground, and we really appreciate the interview. Thank you very much.

PI: Well, I've been really glad to do it.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.