Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Dangers of Waiving Constitutional Rights Due to Prejudice

In general, George Will has increasingly become one of the angry old white men of the Republican Party.  But on occasion he still nails it and comes across with a logical and common sense op-ed that counters some of the ugliest inclinations of the GOP and is fellow conservatives.  One such column appears in the Washington Post in which Will argues against the waiving of constitutional rights favored by many of the anti-Muslim, foaming at the mouth members of the GOP and its racist and religious extremist base.  In doing so, he looks at one of America's less shining moments of the past: the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II which ultimately was fueled by plain racial prejudice.  Here are highlights which should be read by those seeking to waive constitutional rights in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings:

Two of the three most infamous Supreme Court decisions were erased by events. The Civil War and postwar constitutional amendments effectively overturned Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), which held that blacks could never have rights that whites must respect. Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which upheld legally enforced segregation, was undone by court decisions and legislation.

The third, Korematsu v. United States (1944), which affirmed the president’s wartime power to sweep Americans of disfavored racial groups into concentration camps, elicited a 1988 congressional apology. Now Peter Irons, founder of the Earl Warren Bill of Rights Project at the University of California at San Diego, is campaigning for a Supreme Court “repudiation” of the Korematsu decision and other Japanese internment rulings. Such repudiation, if it occurred, would be unprecedented.

On Feb. 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt authorized the military to “prescribe military areas . . . from which any or all persons may be excluded.” So some 110,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry, two-thirds of them born here, were sent to camps in desolate Western locations. Supposedly, this was a precaution against espionage and sabotage. Actually, it rested entirely on the racial animus of Gen. John DeWitt, head of the Western Defense Command.

Using government records, Irons has demonstrated that because senior officials, including Solicitor General Charles Fahy, committed “numerous and knowing acts of governmental misconduct,” the Supreme Court based its decision on “records and arguments that were fabricated and fraudulent.” Officials altered and destroyed evidence that would have revealed the racist motives for the internments.  

Also kept from the court was a report, prepared for the Chief of Naval Operations and made available to DeWitt, estimating potentially disloyal Japanese as just 3 percent of the Japanese American population and declaring that these were “already fairly well known to naval intelligence” and could be quickly apprehended, if necessary. The suppressed report’s conclusion: “The entire Japanese problem has been magnified out of its true proportion, largely because of the physical characteristics of the people (and) should be handled on the basis of the individual. . . and not on a racial basis.”

The Korematsu decision reflected perennial dangers: panic and excessive deference, judicial and other, to presidents or others who would suspend constitutional protections in the name of wartime exigencies.

It is less important that the decision be repudiated than that it be remembered. Especially by those currently clamoring, since Boston, for a U.S. citizen — arrested in America and concerning whom there is no evidence of a connection with al-Qaeda, the Taliban or other terror network — to be detained by the military as an “enemy combatant.” The Korematsu case is a reminder that waiving constitutional rights is rarely necessary and rarely ends well.

Very well said.  Not that logic and reason or even past mistakes mean anything to the Christofascist/Tea Party elements of the GOP.

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