AALL 2018 Recap: FCIL-SIS Book Club Discussion of “In the Shadow of Korematsu”

By Kate Britt

Korematsu 2.JPGFCIL-SIS members nabbed a table at the Lexis lunch to discuss In the Shadow of Korematsu: Democratic Liberties and National Security, a 2018 book by Eric Yamamoto–law professor and part of Fred Korematsu’s legal team in the 1980s.

The first major issue the Book Club seized upon was the book’s style. The writing was noted to be less than scholarly, eschewing legalese for simplicity. The author makes obvious attempts to coin his own phrases (see: “chameleonic deployment”) through repetition and italics; the effect is more silly than convincing. Additionally, the use of clunky endnotes robbed readers of valuable insights and further inquiry into the facts and claims the author makes.

In the Shadow of Korematsu appears to be written for the purpose of persuasion, but the author failed to develop potentially impactful details. The Club regretted the absence of personal stories from Korematsu and his fellow citizens about the effect of living in internment camps. Likewise, the group would have enjoyed more information about the Solicitor General’s decision to retract a statement from the case record before oral arguments. The 1944 Korematsu case and its aftermath are chock full of fascinating historical details and intricate legal arguments; ultimately the book failed to develop either aspect fully. As far as a “good read,” it is neither compelling non-fiction nor engaging legal theory.

The Book Club hypothesized that there may have been a conflict between the author and the publisher regarding who is this book’s intended audience. The publisher may be seeking a wide, general audience; the endnotes, casual writing style, and attempts to coin terms point to this purpose. On the other hand, the author brings Korematsu to the fore just as the current administration detains immigrant children at the border and institutes blanket bans on immigration from majority Muslim countries. Timing suggests that Yamamoto saw his audience as modern judges who are making decisions about U.S. policy. The lack of human-interest stories and possible rush to publication further indicate that he wanted lawmakers to consider Korematsu as an example of what not to do.

Regardless of stylistic flaws, the Book Club agreed that In the Shadow of Korematsu is nevertheless valuable in several respects. For one, it puts the entire story of Korematsu in a single volume. The Club discussed how many of us grew up thinking of the case as old history, but this book revives the reality of Japanese internment camps and their effect on modern America. The strain of racism active in Korematsu is traced to the present day.

The author warns that in times of (seeming) crisis, nothing in the jurisprudence following Korematsu would stop justices from again putting national security ahead of civil rights. Indeed, shortly after the book was published, his warning proved true when the Supreme Court disregarded statements of religious animus and upheld the travel restrictions of Presidential Proclamation 9645 in Trump v. Hawaii. Observers may have trouble reconciling the dictum in that case that disavows Korematsu with the actual holding of the Court. This book clarifies that yes, public opinion disfavors Korematsu, but the conditions which allowed Korematsu persist. The Club discussed how the (personal) opinions of Scalia and Rehnquist continue to influence legal theory and the current bench.

Book Club members expressed interest in pursuing the subject of this book beyond its pages. The experiences of interned persons are related in various podcasts and the writings of actor George Takei. It would also be interesting to see how an immigration attorney, coming from a particular perspective, would frame the case of Trump v. Hawaii.

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