Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal recently revealed that his predecessor Charles Fahy, an appointee of Franklin Roosevelt, deceived the Supreme Court in order to defend and uphold Roosevelt’s executive order that authorized forced removals of over 110,000 Japanese Americans from “military areas.” The Solicitor General is the US’s top courtroom attorney, and viewed as the most important and trusted lawyer to appear before the Supreme Court.
Katyal stated last week that Fahy deliberately hid a report from the Office of Naval Intelligence that concluded that Japanese Americans did not pose a military threat. Even though two of the government’s civilian lawyers had told Fahy it would be “suppression of evidence” to keep the naval intelligence report from the high court, Fahy told the court that the government and the military agreed that the roundup of Japanese Americans was required as a “military necessity.” This led to the 1943 decision to unanimously uphold a curfew imposed on Japanese Americans in the case of Gordon Hirabayashi v. United States, and in 1944, the court upheld the removal order imposed on Japanese Americans in Fred Korematsu v. United States.
These World War II rulings have been considered among the worst in the court’s history, but neither the court nor the Justice Department had formally admitted their mistakes until now. Katyal, who is Indian American and the first Asian American Solicitor General, was doing research last summer for immigration cases when he came upon racist comments about Asians in 19th century briefs submitted to the Supreme Court. Chinese immigrants were described as “people not suited to our institutions.” People from India were described as a “subject race.”
Katyal then looked into the history of WWII internment cases — including research done by UCSD professor Peter Irons, who had found reports in government files showing that the US military did not view Japanese Americans as a threat in 1942. Katyal said he had decided “to set the record straight”. Hats off to him for having the integrity to uncover and call out a predecessor who contributed to this ugly chapter in US history. More info here.