SAN FRANCISCO — Civil Rights hero Gordon Hirabayashi was honored by the Fred T. Korematsu Institute for Civil Rights and Education along with various other Asian American organizations on January 3 after his passing on the previous day in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada at the age of 93.
Hirabayashi's former wife, Esther, also passed away in Edmonton just hours later on the same day at the age of 87.
In 1942, Hirabayashi was a 24-year-old student at the University of Washington when President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, ordering the incarceration of 120,000 innocent people of Japanese ancestry. Hirabayashi, an American citizen, turned himself into the FBI in order to intentionally defy a curfew law imposed on all west coast residents of Japanese ancestry. After he was arrested and convicted, Hirabayashi appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Similar to Korematsu v. United States (1944), and Yasui v. United States (1943), the Supreme Court sadly ruled in Hirabayashi v United States (1943) that the curfew law was justified due to military necessity. Hirabayashi was sent to a prison camp in Arizona. In 1983 and 1987, after the discovery of new evidence proving the government had known there was no grounds for the mass incarceration, both Korematsu and Hirabayashi re-opened their cases, leading their convictions to be overturned in the U.S. District Court N.D. Cal. and the U.S. Court of Appeals 9th Cir., respectively. Their cases never reached the U.S. Supreme Court again, and the high court's decisions in Korematsu v. United States and Hirabayashi v. United States are widely condemned as one of the darkest chapters in American legal history. Min Yasui's case was also re-opened in the 1980s, but Yasui passed away in 1986 before his second case was decided.
"Gordon Hirabayashi was a principled man of peace who, with the courage of his convictions, left us with an enduring legal and social legacy," says Rodney L. Kawakami, lead attorney for the Hirabayashi 1980s legal team. "He inspired us to remember that our Constitutional rights come with a price and that we have an obligation to be constantly vigilant to protect these cherished rights by speaking out in times of crisis, even when unpopular."
In May 2011, acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal released an unprecedented "confession of error" in the Korematsu and Hirabayashi cases.
"He was a great father who taught me about the values of honesty, integrity and justice," said his son, Jay Hirabayashi.