The Japanese American Coram Nobis Cases: Exposing the Myth of Disloyalty


During World War II, Japanese Americans fought for the United States in Europe and the Pacific while the United States imprisoned their families in concentration camps. One hundred and twenty thousand persons of Japanese descent were forcibly removed from the West Coast. They suffered income and property losses of between 810 million and 2 billion in 1983 dollars. The Supreme Court upheld the internment, basing its decision on the government’s claim that harsh measures were necessary to protect the national security from espionage and sabotage by the ethnic Japanese. The Supreme Court’s acceptance of the government’s proffered justification for the internment thus imposed upon the Japanese American community a stigma of disloyalty that no other group of Americans has faced.

Today this seemingly intangible injury fuels the Japanese American community’s drive for redress. The search for justice by the Japanese American community has taken a variety of forms, including coram nobis lawsuits which seek to vacate the World War II convictions of three Japanese Americans who defied the military orders that mandated the mass incarceration. Though narrowly stated in terms of the interests of three individuals, these suits aim to destroy the myth of disloyalty that has maligned not only these individuals but the entire Japanese American community. Thus, the metamorphosis of emotion to legal action cannot be accurately stated without accounting for the interests of all Japanese Americans. This Note will describe the Japanese American community’s interest in removing the stigma of disloyalty and suggest a basis for viewing stigma as a legally recognizable injury.

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