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Title: Aiko Yoshinaga Herzig Interview
Narrator: Aiko Yoshinaga Herzig
Interviewers: Larry Hashima (primary), Glen Kitayama (secondary)
Location: University of California, Los Angeles
Date: September 11, 1997
Densho ID: denshovh-haiko-01-0006

<Begin Segment 6>

AH: There's no question in my mind in the coram nobis cases -- three cases succeeded. And the, even though the class-action lawsuit was dismissed on technicalities, the threat of it hanging over Congress, to me was a major, major factor in the Congress passing that bill. Actually, I read some of the comments made by the participants before the meeting. Those of us who participated were asked to read these comments, and then that would lay a good basis for questions and discussions. And I thought it was a great idea. I read through many of them and I see there was a misunderstanding on the part of some of the participants about of the effect of the court cases, coram nobis and Hohri vs. U.S., the influence or the effect of those court cases on the legislation.

I think they had a tremendous influence on Congress, the legislators to consider the legislation, passing the legislation. We spoke to congressmen and especially in the House, we spoke to Barney Frank after the bill was passed, long after at a social event one time. And we asked Mr. Frank, "Can you tell us, now that it's all over with, what you think was the effect of the class-action lawsuit on the bill, the redress bill?" And he said, "There's no question about it." Why? Because at the time they voted that bill -- this is to be understood, the timeframe is very important -- the time the Congress, House voted that bill, the Supreme Court had not yet come down with the decision on Hohri. I think the Supreme Court was waiting a little bit to see what Congress would do. [Laughs] And Mr. Reagan, President Reagan signed the bill in August 1988. Supreme Court denied hearing Hohri in October. By that time, I think they figured, Supreme Court Justices figured, "Well Congress has voted them, the Japanese Americans an amount, $20,000 per survivor or heirs, so why do we need to hear this?" But I think they were actually, I think they were little afraid to hear it because the opening up and going to trial -- an open trial of Hohri vs. U.S. -- would have brought up a discussion, definitely, of the validity of Korematsu, Hirabayashi, you know, all those cases. They would have had to look at it again and say, and talk about the constitutionality question, which had never been addressed by the Supreme Court. Even in the wartime cases, the Supreme Court of those, of 1944, did not address the constitutionality question of exclusion and incarceration. They addressed curfew, they addressed the law, when military regulations that said a Japanese person must report for quote "evacuation" we call it exclusion. They addressed this thing about curfew with Mr. Hirabayashi, however, they never tackled the constitutional question.

Now, it was one of the primary goals of Hohri vs. United States, not to get redress financial compensation alone, but to define all of the injuries, specifically the deprivation of privacy, the deprivation of the right to travel, the deprivation to assemble, freely, assemble. Not only that, but to reopen, to reconsider Korematsu. And to actually wipe it off the books. The lower courts in 1983, four, five, four or five, I guess, did wipe, did vacate Korematsu, Hirabayashi, but they never, it did not erase those cases from the books, because the Supreme Court is the only body that can erase its own decisions, okay. It's very hard to understand some of these legal things. It's only because I got involved in doing some of the research with my husband for these cases that I now understand and I can say "coram nobis" and I can say "sovereign immunity," you know, without tripping over those words, and I understand those few concepts now. I have -- and it's because of the wonderful legal people that we worked with -- patient, knowledgeable, and just loving. Peter Irons, and Dale, and Ellen Carson and Don Tamaki, all those, Dennis Hayashi, all those people. Just lovely people and I learned so much, Jack and I learned so much from them. As lay persons, it's difficult to deal with these legal issues, but I learned the process where you start a case, it goes up to another court, it goes to Appeals, it gets transferred to another court, and goes up to the Supreme Court. And I learned that if you lose a case, you can appeal. If you win, there is no reason to appeal to a higher court. Okay. In Hohri, we lost, so we appealed (from) the lower court, so we appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court decided not to hear us. And as I told you, I don't know if it was because the law was already passed for redress in Congress or whether they really didn't want to hear it. In the coram nobis case, the coram nobis lawyers won and the government did not want to appeal to the Supreme Court. I knew, I know they knew they were going to lose. I'm sure, so, they didn't appeal those decisions.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.