We’re proud to announce that nine Minami Tamaki LLP attorneys were selected as Northern California Super Lawyers and Rising Stars for 2021. Both Senior Counsels have been named Northern California Super Lawyers for the last 18 consecutive years.
PERSONAL INJURY Dale Minami (Top 10, 2013-2018; Top 100, 2007-2021; Super Lawyers, 18 years) B. Mark Fong (Super Lawyers, 12 years) Seema Bhatt (Rising Stars)
IMMIGRATION AND NATIONALITY LAW Olivia Serene Lee (Super Lawyers) Suhi Koizumi (Super Lawyers, 3 years) Dian Sohn (Rising Stars)
CONSUMER AND EMPLOYEE RIGHTS Sean Tamura-Sato (Super Lawyers) Lisa P. Mak (Rising Stars)
CORPORATE/NONPROFIT Donald K. Tamaki (Super Lawyers, 18 years)
Super Lawyers is a rating service of outstanding lawyers who have attained a high-degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The selection process is independent, and attorneys cannot purchase placements on the list.
PHOTO – TOP ROW (L-R): Donald K. Tamaki; Dale Minami Top 100; B. Mark Fong; Olivia Serene Lee; MIDDLE ROW (L-R): Lisa P. Mak; Seema Bhatt; Suhi Koizumi; Sean Tamura-Sato; La Verne A. Ramsay; BOTTOM ROW (L-R): Dian Sohn**; Angela C. Mapa; Claire Y. Choo; Judy Hinh Wong – *Chosen to 2021 Super Lawyers **Chosen to 2021 Rising Stars
The formation of this task force was made possible by the Governor’s signing of AB 3121, authored by then-Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), which established a nine-member task force to inform Californians about slavery and explore ways the state might provide reparations.
“California is leading the nation, in a bipartisan way, on the issue of reparations and racial justice, which is a discussion that is long overdue and deserves our utmost attention,” said Governor Gavin Newsom. “Last year I signed into law a number of key bills focused on leveling the playing field in our society and ensuring that everyone has a fair shot at achieving the California dream. Today’s appointment of individuals with an expansive breath of knowledge, experiences and understanding of issues impacting the African American community, is the next step in our commitment as a state to build a California for all.”
The five individuals selected by the Governor to serve on this task force represent diverse backgrounds and meet the statutes required by law, which include choosing one candidate from the field of academia with expertise in civil rights, and an additional two appointees selected from major civil society and reparations organizations that have historically championed the cause of reparatory justice.
Other key factors considered for committee candidates included a background in economics and community development, health and psychology, law and criminal justice, faith-based and community activism, and an expertise in the historic achievement of reparatory justice.
The Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans (Reparations Task Force) will have a total of nine members, with two individuals appointed by the Senate and two members appointed by the Assembly.
After months of interviews and careful consideration, the Governor made the following appointments:
Cheryl N. Grills, Ph.D., 62, of Inglewood, has been appointed to the Reparations Task Force. Grills was recently chosen as President’s Professor at Loyola Marymount University, a designation bestowed upon LMU’s most distinguished faculty who already hold the rank of tenured full professor and are acknowledged leaders in their respective fields, having achieved national and international recognition of their work. In addition to her community-based research, her work focuses on racial stress and trauma, implicit bias and community healing focused on the needs of people of African ancestry. Grills has been a Professor of Psychology and Director of Psychology of the Applied Research Center at Loyola Marymount University since 1987. She is Commissioner and Vice Chair of the LA County Sybil Brand Committee where she has served since 2011. She was President of The Association of Black Psychologists from 2011 to 2013. She is the leader of the Global Emotional Emancipation Circles Training Team where she has served since 2009. She is current lead on a national Impact of COVID-19 on Communities of Color Needs Assessment for several Congressional Caucuses and national civil rights organizations. Grills was leader of the Emotional Emancipation (EE) Circle process under the Community Healing Network in 2009. Grills earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Clinical Psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles and her Bachelor’s Degree from Yale University with a double major in Psychology and African American Studies. This position does not require Senate confirmation and there is per diem compensation for not more than ten meetings. Grills is a Democrat.
Amos C. Brown, Th.D., 80, of San Francisco, has been appointed to the Reparations Task Force. Brown is a renowned civil rights leader who is one of the few students who studied under Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and was later arrested with King at a lunch counter sit-in in 1961 and joined the Freedom Riders who protested segregation in the South. Brown was awarded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Ministerial Award for outstanding leadership and contributions to the Black Church in America and was also inducted into the International Hall of Fame at the King International Chapel at Morehouse College. Brown has been a Pastor at the Third Baptist Church of San Francisco since 1976. He was a Pastor at Pilgrim Baptist Church from 1970 to 1976 and at Saint Paul’s Baptist Church from 1966 to 1970. Brown is President and a Member of the Board of Directors of the NAACP and Chairman of the San Francisco Housing Authority. He earned a Doctor of Theology degree from United Theological Seminary and a Master of Theology degree from Crozer Theological Seminary. This position does not require Senate confirmation and there is per diem compensation for not more than ten meetings. Brown is a Democrat.
Lisa Holder, J.D., 49, of Los Angeles, has been appointed to the Reparations Task Force. Holder has dedicated her career to racial and social justice and systems change. Holder is a nationally recognized, award-winning trial attorney who has been identified as a “Super Lawyer” by Los Angeles Magazine for four consecutive years. Holder has been Of Counsel at Equal Justice Society since 2016 and Principal Attorney at the Law Office of Lisa Holder since 2010. She was Lecturer in Law and Adjunct Professor at UCLA School of Law from 2017 to 2019. Holder was Adjunct Professor at Occidental College from 2012 to 2016. She was Associate Attorney at Hadsell Stormer Keeney Richardson from 2005 to 2009. Holder was Deputy Alternate Public Defender at the Los Angeles County Alternate Public Defender from 2001 to 2005. She was awarded a Soros Justice Fellowship through the Open Society Foundation in 2001. She was an Investigator and Analyst at the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem from 1995 to 1997. Holder is a Steering Committee Member of Equal Opportunity 4 All Coalition and Vice Chair of the Child Care Law Center. She earned a Juris Doctor degree from New York University School of Law and a Bachelor’s Degree from Wesleyan University. This position does not require Senate confirmation and there is per diem compensation for not more than ten meetings. Holder is a Democrat.
Donald K. Tamaki, J.D., 69, of Piedmont, has been appointed to the Reparations Task Force. Tamaki is known for his historic work serving on the pro bono legal team that reopened the landmark Supreme Court case of Korematsu v. the United States, overturning Fred Korematsu’s conviction for refusing incarceration during the mass roundup and internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and providing a key legal foundation in the decades’ long Japanese American Redress Movement. He is also Co-founder of StopRepeatingHistory.Org, a campaign focused on drawing parallels between the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II and the targeting of minority groups based on race or religion. The campaign’s current work is focused on the intersectionality of the Japanese American Redress Movement and that of African-American Reparations, with an emphasis on creating solidarity and promoting public awareness on the importance of advancing reparations for African-Americans. Tamaki has been Senior Counsel at Minami Tamaki LLP since 2020, where he also served as Managing Partner from 2006 to 2020 and was Partner from 1987 to 2020. He was a Self-Employed Owner of the Law Offices of Donald K. Tamaki from 1984 to 1987. Tamaki was Executive Director at the Asian Law Caucus – Advancing Justice from 1980 to 1984. He was a Reginald Heber Smith Staff Attorney at Community Legal Services of San Jose from 1976 to 1979 and co-founder of the Asian Law Alliance. Tamaki is a Member of the Bar Association of San Francisco and Asian American Bar Association of the Bay Area. He received the State Bar of California Loren Miller Award in 1987 and the American Bar Association’s Spirit of Excellence Award in 2020. He earned a Juris Doctor degree from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law. This position does not require Senate confirmation and there is per diem compensation for not more than ten meetings. Tamaki is a Democrat.
Jovan S. Lewis, Ph.D., 38, of Berkeley, has been appointed to the Reparations Task Force. Lewis is an economic anthropologist and geographer who researches reparations, the political economy of inequality, and race in the United States and the Caribbean. His current work focuses on the history and contemporary circumstances of the historic Black community of Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the consequences of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre. Lewis is an Associate Professor and the incoming Chair of the Department of Geography at the University of California, Berkeley, where he has taught since 2015. At Berkeley, he has also been Co-chair of the Economic Disparities research cluster at the Othering and Belonging Institute, faculty affiliate in African American Studies, since 2015. He earned a Doctor of Philosophy and Master of Science degrees in Economic Anthropology from the London School of Economics and a Master of Arts degree in Administration from the University of Miami. This position does not require Senate confirmation, and there is per diem compensation for not more than ten meetings. Lewis is a Democrat.
The Task Force will select its own chair and vice chair and their work will be staffed by the Attorney General’s Office. Members will meet over the next year and conclude their work with a written report on their findings, along with recommendations which will be provided to the Legislature.
Today’s actions build upon the Newsom Administration’s work to acknowledge historic wrongs and combat structural racism and bias in our institutions. In March of 2019, the Governor issued a moratorium on the death penalty, which is unfairly applied to people of color, people with mental disabilities and people who cannot afford costly legal representation. Governor Newsom also took action to secure safe drinking water for the 1 million Californians in underserved communities who lacked access to safe water. He also took the historic step of formally apologizing to California Native Americans for the exploitation and violence our predecessors inflicted upon them, and he also announced the Administration’s support for tribal access to co-manage and acquire ancestral lands. Governor Newsom has also taken action to combat decades-long economic inequality by expanding the California Earned Income Tax Credit to millions, including undocumented Californians.
L.A. Theatre Works has released a new audio play by Jeanne Sakata titled “For Us All” based on the true story of the Korematsu v. United States coram nobis effort led by a team of young—mostly Asian American—attorneys that included Dale Minami and Donald K. Tamaki.
Purchase the audio play for $20.00 from L.A. Theatre Works. Purchase includes a virtual interview with playwright Jeanne Sakata in conversation with members of the Korematsu legal team: Lori Bannai, Peter Irons, Dale, and Don. Please note that the delivery of the audio file after your purchase may take up to 72 hours.
Directed by Anna Lyse Erikson Producing Director: Susan Albert Loewenberg Edward Asner as John J. McCloy Brooke Ishibashi as Karen Korematsu, Clerk Tess Lina as Judge Marilyn Hall Patel, Times Analyst, Clerk Mike McShane as Lt. General John L. DeWitt, CBS News Anchor, ABC News Anchor, NBC Reporter Derek Mio as Dale Minami Joy Osmanski as Lorraine (Lori) Bannai, Maya Jeanne Sakata as Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga André Sogliuzzo as Edward Ennis, Victor Stone, NY Times Reporter Josh Stamberg as Peter Irons Greg Watanabe as Fred Korematsu, Eric Yamamoto Paul Yen as Don Tamaki Producer: Anna Lyse Erikson Recording Engineer and Sound Designer: Neil Wogensen Senior Radio Producer: Ronn Lipkin Foley Artist: Jeff Gardner
Synopsis: A team of lawyers use a little known legal writ to fight to overturn the conviction of Fred Korematsu, unjustly sentenced for resisting the WWII mass incarceration of all Japanese Americans on the West Coast. While the government uses every tactic to make the case go away, the lawyers and their defendant insist on nothing short of justice.
The play draws much inspiration from Enduring Conviction: Fred Korematsu and his Quest for Justice by Lorraine K. Bannai (University of Washington Press 2015) and Justice Delayed by Peter Irons (Wesleyan University Press 1989).
This L.A. Theatre Works recording is one of two sponsored by the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program, a state-funded grant project of the California State Library.
Minami Tamaki LLP today announced that Partner Minette A. Kwok will retire from the firm and that Managing Partner Donald K. Tamaki will transition into a Senior Counsel position, both effective on January 1, 2021.
Minette has led Minami Tamaki LLP’s immigration law practice for more than two decades, growing it into an award-winning and successful practice nationally recognized and ranked by U.S. News and World Report.
“Minette developed a solid team of stellar, hardworking professionals and nurtured a firm culture promoting collegiality, collaboration, and mutual respect,” said Don Tamaki who worked with Minette since she joined the firm in 1990 as the first woman Partner. “She built an immigration law practice with superb clients, including numerous technology leaders, and dedicated countless hours to the nation’s immigration bar and to community organizations. Minette is an inspiration to all attorneys.”
Minette’s achievements during her 30-year career include recognized leadership in AILA, numerous awards and recognition for legal excellence, and years of service on nonprofit boards and pro bono work.
“The Soul of America,” a new HBO documentary includes brief interviews with Minami Tamaki LLP Partner Donald Tamaki and Senior Counsel Dale Minami. The film examines our current fraught political reality by exploring historical challenges of the past.
The women’s suffrage movement, the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, McCarthyism, and the struggle to pass Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s were all instances in which “our better angels” battled against the forces of hatred and division that are recurring themes in American life.
Focusing on pivotal moments in our history that reflect America’s longstanding struggles with racism, sexism and xenophobia, the film demonstrates how we continue to confront animosity in American politics, economic anxiety, isolationist and nativist tendencies and conspiracy theories. Helping us to better understand the parallels between current events and their historical antecedents, “The Soul of America” ultimately gives hope that the lessons of the past may bring the nation closer to achieving its democratic ideals.
Don and Dale help lead the Stop Repeating History campaign, which has spent the past four years educating the public on the dangers of unchecked presidential power.
“The Soul of America” debuted on HBO and HBO Max this week and is available on demand. The documentary follows writer, journalist, historian and prolific presidential biographer Jon Meacham as he offers his timely and invaluable insights into the United States’ current political and historical moment by examining its past.
Based on Meacham’s 2018 bestseller, The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels and produced by Kunhardt Films (Emmy® winner for HBO’s “True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality”), the film also chronicles Meacham’s life and career as a journalist and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian as he shares his insights into America’s past and present.
Part political documentary, part biography, the film interweaves archival material and interviews with Meacham along with insights from journalists, academics and civil rights activists.
In addition to brief remarks from Don and Dale, the film features insights from actor and activist George Takei; historian and author Lisa Tetrault; entrepreneur and nonprofit leader Keith Smythe Meacham; journalist and author Evan Thomas; civil rights activist Janice Wesley Kelsey; U.S. Representative and civil rights activist John Lewis, who passed away on July 17, 2020; and others.
Watch “The Soul of America” on HBO or on the HBO Max streaming service.
TOP ROW (L-R): Donald K. Tamaki*; Minette A. Kwok*; Dale Minami* Top 100; B. Mark Fong*; Olivia Serene Lee**; MIDDLE ROW (L-R): Lisa P. Mak**; Seema Bhatt**; Suhi Koizumi*; Sean Tamura-Sato**; La Verne A. Ramsay; BOTTOM ROW (L-R): Dian Sohn; Angela C. Mapa; Claire Y. Choo; Judy Hinh Wong; Leyla Mostafavi – *Chosen to 2020 Super Lawyers **Chosen to 2020 Rising Stars
We’re proud to announce that nine of Minami Tamaki LLP’s attorneys were selected as Northern California Super Lawyers and Rising Stars for 2020. Two of our Partners and our Senior Counsel have been named Northern California Super Lawyers for the last 17 consecutive years.
PERSONAL INJURY Dale Minami (Top 10, 2013-2018; Top 100, 2007-2020; Super Lawyers, 17 years) B. Mark Fong (Super Lawyers, 11 years) Seema Bhatt (Rising Stars, 4 years)
IMMIGRATION AND NATIONALITY LAW Minette A. Kwok (Top 50 Women Northern California, 2014-2016; Super Lawyers, 17 years) Olivia Serene Lee (Rising Stars, 7 years) Suhi Koizumi (Super Lawyers, 2 years; Rising Star, 8 years)
CONSUMER AND EMPLOYEE RIGHTS Sean Tamura-Sato (Rising Stars, 8 years) Lisa P. Mak (Rising Stars, 6 years)
CORPORATE/NONPROFIT Donald K. Tamaki (Super Lawyers, 17 years)
Super Lawyers is a rating service of outstanding lawyers who have attained a high-degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The selection process is independent, and attorneys cannot purchase placements on the list.
Minami Tamaki LLP congratulates Partner Donald K. Tamaki on receiving this year’s AABA Joe Morozumi Award for Exceptional Legal Advocacy.
“[Don] is a worthy successor to the heritage bequeathed by the award’s eponymous civil rights giant,” wrote AABA in its announcement. “Just as Joe Morozumi heroically advanced the cause of civil liberties for marginalized people, Don has carried forward that tradition of zealous advocacy in matters of conscience.”
More from the AABA announcement:
Joe’s legendary activism ranged from representing Vietnam War protestors and other political activists, to advocating for reparations for Japanese Americans whose own United States government incarcerated them in internment camps during World War II. A passionate advocate of employing the law to win justice on behalf of those outside of the society’s mainstream, Joe, along with Judge Ken Kawaichi, was the inspiration and moving force behind the creation of the Asian Law Caucus.
Don, himself a widely renowned advocate, walks in those same footsteps. Recently, his American Bar Association honored Don with the prestigious Spirit of Excellence Award, the latest acknowledgement from organizations such as the ACLU, the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, the State Bar of California, the Asian Law Caucus, the Asian Law Alliance (an organization he co-founded) and a host or organizations too numerous to list. We have the honor of complementing those awards with our own recognition of Don’s achievements.
Don’s record of helping others is a rainbow of causes and cases: The Hibakusha Survivors seeking medical treatment from the United States for the diseases rained down in Hiroshima, founding the Japantown Foundation to preserve San Francisco’s Japantown, litigating the claim to restore the Japantown YWCA to its original Japanese American Founders (now the community organization Little Friends, helping establish Kristi Yamaguchi’s Always Dream and the Minami, Tamaki, Yamauchi, Kwok and Lee Foundations, litigating hate crime cases and supporting LGBTQ rights. Much of his legal work involved cases of first impression, territory daunting to anyone but the fearless. Don also served on the legal team to admit undocumented immigrant Sergio Garcia to the California State Bar. The combined efforts of Don, Mr. Garcia, the State Bar and the California Legislature resulted in the court admitting Mr. Garcia. The implications of the effort rippled far beyond California, encouraging other states to follow the decision.
His list of keynote speeches, panel presentations, nationally streamed presentations, and media commentaries spans several pages. He appeared in several documentaries, including “Alternative Facts”, the Emmy awarded documentary, “Of Civil Wrongs and Rights: The Fred Korematsu Story” and the Oscar nominated documentary, “Unfinished Business”. On another note, Don also appeared in the hilarious documentary, “Up for Grabs”, the story of the Barry Bonds historic home run ball controversy which led to litigation headed by Don and Mike Lee.
Don was born and educated in the East Bay, graduating from Oakland High School, which is ironically across the street from the first Asian Law Caucus office, then graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of California-Berkeley in 1973 and received his JD from Berkeley Law in 1976. Upon graduation, he practiced poverty and civil rights law in San Jose and co-founded the Asian Law Alliance, a public interest law firm. He then served as the Executive Director of the Asian Law Caucus where he had begun volunteering in 1972, the nation’s first public interest law firm representing Asian Americans in civil rights and poverty law cases.
Perhaps his most recognized achievement was his remarkable work on the legal team that reopened the landmark US Supreme Court case of Fred Korematsu, overturning his criminal convictions for defying military orders during World War II. The reopening of Korematsu’s case resulted from evidence that the government altered, suppressed and destroyed evidence which contradicted claims advanced in the Supreme Court that Japanese Americans were predisposed to disloyalty and had committed acts of espionage.
But he hasn’t slowed down: His outrage at the Muslim immigration ban led to the organization of another public awareness campaign, StopRepeatingHistory.Org, dedicated to educating the public about the dangers of unbridled presidential overreach. Joining the legal team that filed an amicus brief in Trump v. Hawaii on behalf of the children of Mr. Korematsu, as well as Gordon Hirabayashi and Minoru Yasui, fellow Japanese Americans who challenged wartime restrictions targeting people of Japanese ancestry. In tandem with this amicus filing, Don’s legal team embarked on a public education campaign, connected the dots between the current hostility to Muslims, Arabs and immigrants to the past discrimination against Chinese and Japanese Americans to help warn this country about the dangers demonizing marginalized groups presents to our democracy.
Currently, Don serves on the Board of Directors of the Glide Legacy Fund, which provides financial support to the Glide Foundation, which operates one of the largest legal programs serving the homeless in San Francisco, President of the San Francisco Japantown Foundation, which since 2006 has raised close to $1 million—funds it uses to issue grants to nonprofit preserve SF Japantown, one of three remaining Japantowns in the United States – and as Co-Founder and Secretary to the Minami Tamaki Yamauchi Kwok and Lee Foundation.
In that spirit, the AABA community thanks and honors Don with the Joe Morozumi Award for Exceptional Legal Advocacy. His work will certainly inspire future generations of activists. As Mike Lee, a Co-Founder of the award has explained: “ I’m sure Joe, who so generously mentored Dale, Joan, me, and many other law students and lawyers, would be/is honored to have Don as a recipient of this award, who so embodies the highest attributes of the best, brightest and worthiest of our profession, especially a fierce, utter, uncompromising devotion to justice for all, and honor.
Minami Tamaki LLP congratulates Partner Donald K. Tamaki on being honored with an ABA Spirit of Excellence Award for 2020. The award was presented at the 2020 ABA Midyear Meeting in Austin, Texas, on February 15, 2020.
The award celebrates the efforts and accomplishments of lawyers who work to promote a more racially and ethnically diverse legal profession. Awardees excel in their professional settings; personify excellence on the national, state or local level; and demonstrate a commitment to racial and ethnic diversity in law.
“There are a lot of people who agree that diversifying the profession is important, but it’s sometimes put on the back burner,” said Helen Kim, chair of the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity, to the ABA Journal. “What the Spirit of Excellence Awards do is focus on its importance by highlighting and showcasing those who are promoting diversity and inclusion in the profession. It also inspires the people in the audience to join in the cause.”
Don served on the legal team that reopened the 1944 U.S. Supreme Court case of Fred Korematsu, overturning his criminal conviction for defying the removal and unjust incarceration of almost 120,000 Japanese Americans. He was also on the team that filed an amicus brief in Trump v. Hawaii on behalf of Korematsu’s daughter and the children of Gordon Hirabayashi and Minoru Yasui, two other Japanese American plaintiffs in Supreme Court cases challenging curfews.
“My father once told me when he was a kid he wanted to be a lawyer, but it was impossible,” said Don. “To this day, I keep his [college] diploma. It is wrapped in a mailing tube that was addressed to a concentration camp. The fact that now I’m getting recognized, it’s important to me, I’m honored, but it’s important for the entire public to remember how far we’ve come.”
Donald K. Tamaki Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Thank you ABA, its Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity, its chair Helen Kim, the NAPABA Awards Committee, NAPABA’s President, Bonnie Lee Wolf, and past President Daniel Sakaguchi.
Thank you to my lovely wife, Suzanne Ah-Tye, whose formidable persona keeps me in line, and who blessed me with twin sons, Blake and Philip, here today with their spouse and fiancée, respectively, Michelle Tamaki and Annie Wang.
Finally, I want to lift up my law partners, Mark Fong and Olivia Lee, and in particular, Dale Minami—the 2019 awardee of the ABA Medal—who, to my delight, I am occasionally mistaken for, since we all look alike. And when I’m congratulated for Dale’s achievements by people thinking I am him, I simply say, humbly, “Thank you, but I owe it all to Don Tamaki.”
My parents have passed, along with most of the 120,000 Japanese Americans who were incarcerated in 1942, so allow me to be their voice.
When FDR issued the Executive Order—authorizing Lt. General John L. Dewitt to do the mass removal—my father was about to graduate from UC Berkeley. But because he had been taken away, Berkeley scrolled up his diploma in a mailing tube, and addressed it to him at “Tanforan Assembly Center, Barrack 80, Apt 5, San Bruno.”
Do you know what “Barrack 80, Apt 5” was? It was a horse stall. The government surrounded race tracks on the West Coast with barbed wire and machine gun towers and forced these Americans at gunpoint out of their homes while 10 more permanent detention camps were being built from California to Arkansas.
Metaphorically speaking for my father: This diploma was the promise of America. But the mailing tube, encircling and constraining that promise addressed to a horse stall reeking of manure, was his reality. I keep this memento because it reminds me of how far we’ve come.
My parents rarely talked about their bitter experience. Until one day in 1982, I showed them secret, intelligence reports from the Navy, the FBI, and the FCC admitting that Japanese Americans had done no wrong. Moreover, Justice Department memos revealed a scandal of epic proportions. DOJ lawyers urged their superiors that they had an ethical duty to disclose these official reports and not to lie or mislead the Supreme Court. They were rebuffed by the Solicitor General, the Assistant Attorney General, and War Department officials who suppressed, fabricated, and destroyed evidence.
For my parents this was a jaw-dropping mind-blowing revelation. They of course, knew that they were innocent, but had thought that their confinement was the result of wartime hysteria. They could hardly fathom that the government’s own files revealed that what might have started as hysteria ended at the highest echelons of our legal system as a calculated plan to manipulate the outcome of the Korematsu decision even if it meant lying to the Supreme Court.
THE SUPREME COURT CASES
Colonel Karl Bendetsen, a Stanford law graduate who should have known something about the Constitution, worked under General Dewitt to design the mass removal. He penned the following statement for DeWitt:
“The Japanese race is an enemy race… The very fact that no sabotage has taken place to date is a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken.”
Wrap your head around that logic: the very fact that you’ve never committed a crime “is a disturbing and confirming indication” that you will commit a crime?
In other words, our people lost their freedom, their property, and ,for some, even their lives based on conspiracy theories and fake news. This was a time when “alternative facts” held sway over the real ones.
Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayashi, and Minoru Yasui, defied DeWitt’s orders, and were tried and convicted. They appealed.
Because not a single Japanese American was ever tried and convicted of espionage. The burden fell on General DeWitt to issue a “Final Report” to prove that what he did was reasonable. There was only one problem, it was entirely made up and the government knew it at the time.
In 1944, in Korematsu, Solicitor General Charles Fahy exhorted the Court not to second-guess the judgment of the military that locking up these Americans was necessary for the nation’s safety. Instead of asking questions, the Court deferred, thereby abdicating its constitutional role as a check and balance on the Executive Branch. In a 6-3 decision, Justice Black wrote that this was not a case of racial hostility, but a case of “military necessity.” How did the Court know that the round-up was necessary? Its reasoning was sheepish, “because the military said so”.
THE REOPENING AND CORAM NOBIS
37 years later, Professor Peter Irons, found DOJ records that had been misfiled in the Commerce Department and forgotten. With researcher Aiko Yoshinaga Herzig, they uncovered whistle-blower memos written by Edward Ennis, the official supervising the drafting of the government’s brief. When Ennis began searching for the evidence that Japanese Americans had committed espionage, to his alarm he found the opposite, that there was no evidence.
Naval Intelligence, the lead agency for West Coast security, concluded that Japanese Americans posed no threat and recommended against the round-up. Ennis wrote to Solicitor General Fahy:
“I think we should consider very carefully whether we have a duty to advise the Court of the …[the Navy’s] report… any other course of conduct might approximate the suppression of evidence.”
The FCC found that DeWitt mischaracterized radio signals coming from Tokyo as shore-to-ship transmissions. FBI Director Hoover confirmed:
“[e]very complaint has been thoroughly investigated…in no case had there been any evidence of illicit signaling.”
DOJ lawyer John Burling wrote to Assistant Attorney General Herbert Wechsler:
“…There is no doubt that [DeWitt’s]…statements are intentional falsehoods.”
Ennis wrote to Wechsler:
“[We have] an ethical obligation to…refrain from citing…DeWitt’s claims…if the [DOJ] knows that [they are] …are untrue…The…tenor of [Final] report is…that …overt acts of treason were being committed. Since this is not so, it is highly unfair to this racial minority that these lies…go uncorrected…”
In the end, the evidence was suppressed. The Solicitor General stood behind the Final Report even though every intelligence agency had debunked its claims. On this basis that a fraud on the high Court had been committed, our team of pro bono lawyers was able to have Fred Korematsu’s criminal conviction thrown out.
PARALLELS OF KOREMATSU TO THE TRAVEL BAN
The Court’s “rubber stamp” approach opened the door for this massive fraud to occur. Simply put, if the courts look the other way when the President invokes “national security,” the temptation for leaders to twist the facts, to engage in fabrications to achieve a political end, is likely to be irresistible. The founders of this nation understood this so they established a system of checks and balances to thwart the rise of kings and tyrants.
In 2017, the President banned travel from Muslim-majority nations, separating families and stranding U.S. residents abroad. Thousands of validly issued visas were canceled. Hundreds with such visas were prevented from boarding planes or denied entry on arrival—including Iraqi translators who risked their lives serving the US military.
The government claimed that an undisclosed Homeland Security Report showed that the ban was necessary for national security, and therefore, the Court should bow to the will of the President to impose, in Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s words, “an exclusionary policy of sweeping proportion.”
Opponents argued that the Travel Ban was not about security, but was the bigoted “Muslim Ban” that Trump had promised on the campaign trail.
In 2018, in a 5-4 decision, the Court upheld the Ban. Chief Justice John Roberts declared: “Korematsu was gravely wrong the day it was decided…”
But in the same breath, Roberts concluded that Korematsu has nothing to do with the Travel Ban held that the Court would not second-guess the judgment of the Executive in matters of security, and that Trump’s anti-Muslim vitriol didn’t matter.
As Harvard Law Professor Noah Feldman observed that’s more or less what the Court did in Korematsu. There, Justice Black denied that the orders requiring the forced removal were based on racial prejudice. The dissenters pointed out that this was preposterous.
To quote Peter Irons, the parallels between Korematsu and the Travel Ban are disturbing. Both arose out of war, both featured the government invoking “national security” to shield its actions from judicial scrutiny, both had abundant evidence of prejudice expressed by high officials against a targeted minority, both involved hidden intelligence reports, and both ended with the Court failing to question whether such sweeping deprivations of fundamental freedoms were necessary for the nation’s safety or were merely the fulfillment of bigoted campaign promises.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
Friends—the lesson of Korematsu is that democracy is not necessarily lost in a sudden coup d’etat.
No, we can lose our freedom incrementally:
When the Congress, the Judiciary, and the Executive no longer serve as a check and balance to curb the abuse of power;
When the free press is attacked as “the enemy of the people;”
When the judiciary is disparaged as “so-called judges;”
When dissenters and whistleblowers are shouted down and retaliated against; and
When “alternative facts” are trotted out in place of the real ones.
No, a democracy is not always lost by overthrow if they are no checks and balances.
And if we fail to stand up and demand accountability to the Rule of Law, our democratic institutions can end up hollowed out from within to the point that we will no longer be able to recognize them.
In my travels with Fred Korematsu he always closed by saying:
“Don’t be afraid to speak up.”
So let’s not be afraid to speak up.
Let’s speak up. Our voices are more important now than ever.
The Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs has awarded Minami Tamaki LLP Partner Donald K. Tamaki with a Japan Foreign Minister’s Commendation for 2019.
The Commendations are awarded to individuals and groups with outstanding achievements in international fields, in order to acknowledge their contributions to the promotion of friendship between Japan and other countries and areas.
The Commendations also aim to promote the understanding and support of the Japanese public for the activities of the recipients.
In announcing the Commendation to Don, the Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Don “has been dedicated to preserving and promoting Japanese culture in San Francisco” and “also made a tremendous contribution to improving the status of Japanese Americans in the United States of America as a member of the pro bono team that reopened and overturned Fred Korematsu’s criminal conviction in the landmark Supreme Court case of Korematsu v. the United States.”
Don will receive the Commendation in late November at the Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco.