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01/30/2017 06:38 am ET Updated Jan 30, 2017

Google Doodle Honors Fred Korematsu, Activist Who Fought Japanese Internment

His life is a reminder that what is legal isn't always the same as what's right.

Monday’s Google Doodle celebrated the birthday of Fred Korematsu, a Japanese-American who defied government orders to relocate to an internment camp during World War II. 

In 1942, Korematsu was one of thousands of American citizens of Japanese descent who were forced to leave their homes and most of their worldly possessions under Executive Order No. 9066. The order, signed by then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt (D) in response to Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor, gave the U.S. Army the green light to round up Japanese-Americans and place them in designated military zones.

The effort was later considered a low point in U.S. history, a moment where fear overwhelmed tolerance. 

Korematsu refused to comply with the order and fled from his home in San Leandro, California to Oakland. Korematsu was soon captured and convicted, but he appealed the decision. The Supreme Court ruled against him 6-3, though the conviction was vacated in 1983.

In the original Supreme Court ruling, dissenting Justice Robert Jackson said that the only crime Korematsu committed was “being present in the state whereof he is a citizen, near the place where he was born and where all his life he has lived.” Justice Frank Murphy called the executive order “legalization of racism.” 

“It is the case of convicting a citizen as a punishment for not submitting to imprisonment in a concentration camp, based on his ancestry, and solely because of his ancestry, without evidence or inquiry concerning his loyalty and good disposition towards the United States,” they wrote. “If this be a correct statement of the facts disclosed by this record, and facts of which we take judicial notice, I need hardly labor the conclusion that Constitutional rights have been violated.”

Seventy-five years later, the statement bears resemblance to comments made by activists across the country over the weekend in the wake of President Donald Trump’s executive order banning people from majority-Muslim countries from entering the U.S.

In New York, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the federal government as travelers coming from the seven countries named in the order were detained and interrogated at airports across the U.S. 

In response, a federal judge blocked part of the executive order and said that “the petitioners have a strong likelihood of success in establishing that the removal of the petitioners and others similarly situated violates the rights to Due Process and Equal Protection guaranteed by the United States Constitution.” Judges in Seattle, Massachusetts and Virginia made similar rulings.

CORRECTION: This story previously stated that the ruling convicting Fred Korematsu was overturned. The conviction was vacated, but the ruling was not overturned.

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