Gordon Hirabayashi died on January 2, at age 93.
The Washington Post obituary notes that the federal government put him in a prison during the 1940s. President Franklin Roosevelt issued many decrees, but the one that would lead to Hirabayashi’s imprisonment, Executive Order 9066, said that thousands of Americans residing on the West Coast had to leave their jobs and homes and promptly report to certain prison camps (“relocation centers”). The feds said actual proof of wrongdoing was unnecessary.
Hirabayashi refused to go along with the program, so he was prosecuted for disobeying the president and jailed. The courts rejected his argument that FDR had exceeded the powers of his office. In an interview in 1985, Hirabayashi looked back on his ordeal and said, “My citizenship didn’t protect me one bit. Our Constitution was reduced to a scrap of paper.”
Even though there are written safeguards concerning due process, habeas corpus, and jury trial, presidents will sometimes assert the power to override all that. FDR did it. George W. Bush did it. And Barack Obama wants to reserve the option to do it.
On January 17, Cato will be hosting a book forum about FDR’s war policies and civil liberties.