A distinguished member of the U.S. Supreme Court gave a sobering reminder of how history can and likely will repeat itself when the conditions are right. Justice Antonin Scalia said that he would not be surprised if Americans were once again imprisoned in concentration camps by the federal government.
The 77-year-old justice was answering questions after giving a classroom lecture to a group of law students in Honolulu. One student asked about the deplorable 1944 Korematsu v. United States decision, in which the U.S. Supreme Court verified the constitutionality of the president ordering the mass-imprisonment of Americans in the name of national security.
Scalia cited the wartime “panic” as a reason Americans accepted President Franklin Roosevelt’s hostile treatment of citizens of his own country.
As the Associated Press reported:
“Well of course Korematsu was wrong. And I think we have repudiated in a later case. But you are kidding yourself if you think the same thing will not happen again,” Scalia told students and faculty during a lunchtime Q-and-A session.
Scalia cited a Latin expression meaning, “In times of war, the laws fall silent.”
“That’s what was going on — the panic about the war and the invasion of the Pacific and whatnot. That’s what happens. It was wrong, but I would not be surprised to see it happen again, in time of war. It’s no justification, but it is the reality,” he said.
The Korematsu case stemmed from President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which divided the country into “Military Areas” and in a real sense instituted martial law in the United States. Control of civilian territory was granted to to military commanders and the Secretary of War, who were authorized to take any freedom-restricting actions they deemed necessary to secure the homeland.
U.S. population were labeled as “enemies” or “enemy aliens.” They were: (1) people suspected of “subversive activities” (which included speaking against the war); (2) Japanese aliens; (3) American-born Japanese; (4) German aliens; and (5) Italian aliens.