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Title: Floyd Shimomura Interview
Narrator: Floyd Shimomura
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Emeryville, California
Date: March 11, 2019
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-466-15

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: Okay, so Floyd, I want to pick it up at the 1978, it was that Salt Lake City JACL national convention. This was the year you were elected to the vice president of public affairs, but then also the resolution, the redress resolution. And I've heard about this resolution from the perspective of people in Seattle who worked on this, because back then, Seattle was really active, the chapter. And I think they, in fact came up with, or were advocating for like a number and things like that. Tell me a little bit about that resolution and what it really called for at that point.

FS: Well, the primary thing was, the number was 25,000 dollars, and there was an apology, but then there was also a trust fund aspect to it. And the question of whether we should even ask for money was kind of controversial. I mean, all the people who were for redress were okay with that, with the money. The problem was with the people who weren't involved in redress but thought that that would create backlash.

TI: That was pretty much the rest of the community at the time. [Laughs]

FS: Yeah. But the thing is, they never organized and came in and fought against it. They weren't at the table, they just were out there worrying about it and maybe monkuing amongst themselves. So for all the people who were for it, then there was the question of whether it should be $30,000 or $50,000. But anyway, 25,000 dollars...

TI: Well, so I want to ask you about that because I'm not sure exactly the timing of this, but I was kind of going through some of your materials and things, I mean, you actually did some research on the issue of monetary compensation from a government. And this was even before, I think it was before you got involved with redress, or was that about the same time? You wrote a paper on it.

FS: I did write a paper on it, and it actually started when I was at the attorney general's office and I worked on something where, something happened in California where the court ordered the state to pay some money, a lot of money, but nothing like the billion dollars that we were asking for redress. But for political reasons, the legislature didn't want to pay it. And so I had to do research for the office on what was the power of the courts to force the legislature, and then obviously one answer is, well, they really can't, because the legislature's power to appropriate, the courts can't usurp that. But there were other things that the court can do for somebody who won't pay money. I mean, you could repossess somebody's car or house or building or something, so it's like, well, can they repossess the state capitol or some state office building or a state park property? There are other ways that they can, of course can... and the law said, no, you really can't do that, because that's, in effect, taking money that was appropriated for one purpose, like a park, and now you're using it for another purpose. So that got me into this whole question of, well, a little light bulb went on in my head that the courts only have a limited ability to get people to pay, or the government to pay, at the state level. And when I did research on the federal level, it was exactly the same. And so part of the research, the lesson of that is why JACL never really ever considered filing a lawsuit for money. Because the bottom line was, even if you got the court to award you 1.6 billion dollars, you've still got to go to the legislature to fund it. So if you go to court, you might lose, and you probably will because the court has, they have sovereign immunity on that. So it's useless to go to the court, because in the end, you're going to have to convince the legislature, or Congress, to appropriate the money. So let's cut to the chase, it's a political question, and if you can't get them to appropriate it straight up, you're not going to get them to appropriate it even if you have a judgment.

TI: Interesting. Did you ever have this conversation with William Hohri, with NCJAR? Because he went through the, his stance was, let's do the judicial process.

FS: No, I didn't. I never even thought to do that, because his whole thing... well, he was suspicious of JACL to begin with, so if I went up and tried to talk him out of it, it's not going to do any good. I have no credibility with him.

TI: Well, you had done this research, though, right? William Hohri was -- I mean, I interviewed him, smart guy, really articulate.

FS: But see, he -- and I don't question either his intelligence or... and there was a thing where he didn't like the idea of going and begging Congress for this money. What he wanted to do was go into court and cram this down. But his misassumption was, is that the court didn't have the power to do that.

TI: Yeah, this is the first time someone made this compelling case.

FS: And so, and if they did do it, it would have set, like 250 years of history and colonial history, and that's why Donald Trump's not going to get money for his wall, either. It's just not going to happen.

TI: Without Congress sort of appropriating that money. So it's really their role, their responsibility.

FS: Yeah.

TI: So that makes sense, because I remember having this discussion with William Hohri, and there was a compelling case that, wow, it's the law, and so that's for the courts to decide. But you're right, for the money, if you really want money, that would have to come from Congress.

FS: Yeah, if you want an apology or repeal of 9066, you go to the President, and if you want a conviction overturned, then you go to the courts, if your name was Korematsu. But if you want money, you've got to go to Congress. I mean, that's just the way it is. So you just have to take the most direct route, right? So the question is, talking about my research, because, see, in Congress, there's no statute of limitations. And also, there's a specific clause that talks about people's right to petition Congress to redress grievances, and that has always meant to go in, including getting money for any damages that you think the government has done to you. So there's a constitutional basis to go directly to Congress. But when you go back for historical analysis, you have to go back to the Civil War period, when part of the United States was under military rule. And during the Civil War, the Union armies would go in and round people up and put 'em in these little detention things, they would confiscate property and use it. They'd take the pig and eat it, and take the wood and put their soldiers in people's houses in the South. So when the war was over, there was a lot of people who said, "Hey, I was done wrong by the Union army." I mean, everybody, but particularly like, "Hey, our family actually supported the Union side, but then when they came in here, and we told them, 'Hey, we're on your side,' they took our stuff anyway." I mean, these are the kind of equity arguments they would make. So they would have what they call claims that they would file, private claim bills from the Civil War. And you can go through the congressional records and you can see them. And, in fact, part of the budget, they put 'em all together and they would total it up, and Congress could vote on it.

TI: So there's a precedent.

FS: Yeah. But the thing I was interested in is when was the last Civil War claim paid? And the research that I found was it was in 1907, which was, Civil War ended in '65.

TI: Right, so about forty years after.

FS: Well, it was actually, yeah, it was forty-two years, okay. Now, when did World War II end?

TI: 1945.

FS: Okay, and if you add forty-two to that, you come out with...

TI: Eighty-six.

FS: Eighty-seven. So I knew that we were running out of time. It was like good news and bad news. It's like, hey, you could still do it, because in the Civil War, there was the last claim, forty-two years later they were still paying it, and we're still within forty-two years, but that's 1987. So we're 1978, 1980, we're getting up on that, so we still have time, but we don't have lots of time.

TI: But although you said earlier, when you said there was no statute of limitations.

FS: No, there is no statute of limitations, so there's only historical experience here.

TI: So when you get beyond the scope of what's happened before, then you're, like, in unknown territory is what you're saying?

FS: Yeah, and we got it in '88, right? So we pushed that line now one more year. There's nothing that says they can't do it, but you look at...

TI: So reparations for slavery, for instance...

FS: It's like looking at Olympic records, you see how many people have run the mile and what person did it the fastest, and so there's nothing that says you can't run a mile in a minute, but no one has been able to do that. And so you look at historical precedent, and that's the closest we can get to the same kind of situation where part of the United States was put under military rule and the military did things, and people got rounded up. But after forty-two years, no one was ever able to get any more compensation.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.