Research Report prepared for Presidential Select Committee on JACL Resolution #7
(aka “The Lim Report”)
submitted in 1990 by Deborah K. Lim
© 2002 by Deborah K. Lim
Part II: Internment Period (1942-1945)
IIA. JACL Position on Legal Test Cases
The issue of what JACL’s position on a legal test case was clearly and unequivocally spelled out in Bulletin #142 of the JACL, Office of the National Secretary, dated April 7, 1942. This particular bulletin, issued and signed by Mike Masaoka in his capacity as National Secretary and Field Executive is entitled RE: TEST CASES. It specifically discusses the facts of Min Yasui’s case. The third paragraph of the three page bulletin states:
(emphasis in the original)
2) the JACL and its members had pledged total cooperation to the President;
3) cooperation with Federal officials will cause reciprocal cooperation;
4) our contribution to the war effort is to accept all army regulations and orders;
5) public opinion is opposed to any challenges of the Army and its authority;
6) we might win the case but lose goodwill in the process;
7) any challenge might result in retaliation by the Army;
8) Attorney General Biddle said there was little chance the courts would challenge the military’s authority;
9) the ACLU decided against a test case, and they are champions of civil liberties;
10) unfavorable publicity as seen in the headlines from the Yasui case.
Ten days later, Min Yasui submitted a document entitled “Discussion of the Ten Points of JACL and explanation of the stand of Minoru Yasui,” dated April 17, 1942. In this document, Yasui responds to Masaoka’s arguments point by point.
There has been speculation that prior to his curfew violation, Min Yasui had sought the assistance of JACL. “Before deciding to test the curfew, Yasui had written to Mike Masaoka in San Francisco stating his intentions, and asking JACL’s support. There is no record the letter was ever delivered.“115 This has been suggested as a reason for what seems to be a rather negative personal attack on Yasui in Bulletin #142.
Yasui did solicit the aid of local JACL chapters as well, although it is unclear exactly when this occurred.
The policy of opposition to test cases is subsequently reaffirmed at the Special Emergency National Conference held November 17-24, 1942 in Salt Lake City, Utah. In the Sixth Session of the Conference devoted to “General Japanese American Problems,” National Secretary Mike Masaoka introduced ACLU attorney A. L. Wirin, who proceeded to discuss the various cases pending in court. Wirin reviewed Regan v. King, (effort to take away citizenship of Japanese Americans); Kawata (could alien Japanese sue in court?); Brown v. Oshiro (did military orders cancel or suspend contract obligations of those subject to evacuation?); Yasui (constitutionality of curfew); Wakayama (habeas corpus); Hirabayashi (curfew and evacuation); Korematsu (evacuation); Endo (habeas corpus). After an explanation of the constitutional and legal issues raised in the evacuation cases, the National Secretary states an interest in having JACL appear as a friend of the court (i.e. submit an amicus brief) in the Native Sons’ case (Regan v. King) but not evacuation.
It isn’t until the Thirteenth Session that any resolution of this issue appears. In addressing the Project Division,” under the project heading of “Civil Rights and Liberties,” the National Secretary outlines as a project, entering the Native Sons of the Golden West lawsuit as amicus curiae. Masaoka states:
More proof of JACL’s policy on the Yasui case in particular comes to us from a different source and perspective. In a Memorandum from the District Intelligence Officer, Thirteenth Naval District, to the Director of Naval Intelligence, dated January 30, 1943 on the subject of Japanese Activities at Minidoka, Mike Masaoka makes several policy statements, on the Yasui matter. The Memo in question discusses the “Minoru Yasui defense committee’s” recent name change to the “CIVIL LIBERTIES LEAGUE,” made up primarily of former Portland, Oregon residents. The District Intelligence Officer or DIO identifies several Issei involved in fundraising activities for the Yasui committee. The DIO states that Mike Masaoka visited the Minidoka camp on January 23 & 24, 1943.
Yet another ONI report fixes the date of the first meeting as December 2, 1942. The meeting attracted some 300 persons, partly in response to the publicity on the case in the Minidoka Irrigator, the camp newspaper. 121 The same report is given on Mike Masaoka’s reaction to the Civil Liberties League. It does add the following comments though.
Masaoka’s visit to Minidoka and comments directed at the Civil Liberties League served to quash the fledgling organization.
Myron Gurnea’s FBI Survey of Japanese Relocation Centers also contained information on this conflict. Referring to a WRA staffer by the name of Townsend, Gurnea writes:
When did JACL’s policy towards the evacuation and detention cases change? Interestingly enough, in the Thursday, February 18, 1943 issue of the Pacific Citizen an article on court reviews of evacuation orders indicates that according to Wirin, the JACL, having filed an amicus brief in the Regan case, is considering doing so in the other evacuation test cases if they are taken to the U.S. Supreme Court. 125
Official communication of a policy change appears in the March 4, 1943 Bulletin #7, to all JACL leaders and National Board members from National Secretary Masaoka. On page two under the heading of Civil Rights Committee, Masaoka informs the recipients of the Bulletin that the government has been making disturbing claims regarding the unassimilability of Japanese Americans, effect of dual citizenship on allegiance of the Nisei, schooling and indoctrination of Japanese Americans and so forth. As a consequence:
Should these cases testing the constitutionality of the evacuation orders be carried to the Supreme Court, we believe that the JACL should, and must, appear as “friends of the court” to question the broad constitutional powers involved. While this may seem to be a reversal of our policy, it actually constitutes an affirmation of our policy that we cooperated with the government in the evacuation program but that we did so under protest and without admitting its constitutionality. Evacuation is now an accomplished fact, and the military are no longer directly concerned, and therefore, by testing the constitutionality of these orders, we are not now hampering the war effort of our government but rather determining for once and for all the basic rights of military groups under our Federal Constitution.126
After the issuance of Bulletin #7, articles in the Pacific Citizen began to publicize National JACL’s amicus briefs and oral arguments in the Yasui and Hirabayashi cases. (April 29, 1943 and May 13, 1943) In the May 27, 1943 issue of the Pacific Citizen wherein A. L. Wirin reports on the Supreme Court Hearings, the role of the JACL is addressed. On page 6 of the issue of the Pacific Citizen, Wirin informs us that:
As for the Korematsu and Endo cases, which were progressing more slowly than the Yasui and Hirabayashi cases, the Pacific Citizen on Saturday, October 14, 1944 announced that JACL filed an amicus brief on the unconstitutionality of evacuation. The 200-page brief was signed by Saburo Kido, National President of JACL, and A. L. Wirin, then special counsel of JACL.
No amicus brief was filed on behalf of Endo, however. The 1946 Biennial Minutes indicate that “since the Endo case was being argued at the same time, we did not think it necessary to file a separate brief on the same points.“129/P
AAC Anti-Axis Committee
CWRIC Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians
DIO District Intelligence Officer
DNI Director, Naval Intelligence
JACL Japanese American Citizens League
JACL Archives Japanese American Citizens League Archives, San Francisco
JARP Japanese American Research Project, Special Collection, University Research
Library, University of California, Los Angeles
JERS Japanese Evacuation and Resettlement Study, Bancroft Library, University of
Merritt Collection Merritt Collection, #122, Special Collection, University Research
Library, University of California, Los Angeles
NA National Archives, Washington, D.C.
ND Naval District
NDC Northern District Council
ONI Office of Naval Intelligence
RG Record Group
SDC Southern District Council
WRA War Relocation Authority
PART II: INTERNMENT PERIOD (1942-1945)
IIA. JACL Position on Legal Test Cases
(112) JACL Bulletin #142, 4/7/42, JACL Archives.
(115) Hosokawa, JACL, p. 176.
(116) Memorandum, DIO, 13th ND, to DNI, ONI, 3/25/43, p. 18, Box 2, Entry 17, RG 210, NA.
(117) JACL Minutes, Special Emergency National Conference, November 17-24, 1942, Sixth Session, p. 31, JACL Archives (hereafter cited as “Minutes, Special Conference, 1942”).
(118) Ibid., p. 101.
(119) Ibid. p. 103.
(120) Memorandum, DIO, 13th ND, to DNI, 1/30/43, Box 2, Entry 17, RG 210, NA.
(121) Memorandum, DIO, 13th ND, to DNI, 3/25/43, Box 2, Entry 17, RG 210, NA.
(122) Memorandum, DIO, 13th ND, to DNI, 1/30/43.
(123) Memorandum, DIO, 13th ND to DNI, 3/25/43.
(124) Myron Gurnea, Interviews with WRA Personnel, Part II, p. 255, Box 1, Entry 17, RG 210, NA.
(125) Pacific Citizen, 2/13/43.
(126) JACL Bulletin #7, 3/4/43, JACL Archives.
(127) Pacific Citizen, 5/27/43.
(128) Masaoka, “Report,” p. 169.
(129) JACL Minutes, 1946 National Convention, p. 9, JACL Archives.