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Not Giving Up: Fred Korematsu Lives On

Today is the Fred T. Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution. Tonight, at NYCLA’s Andrew Hamilton Hall, our principal, Vinoo Varghese, along with fellow members of the Asian American Bar Association of New York (AABANY) will be honoring Mr. Korematsu by reenacting the story of Korematsu v. United States. This was the 1944 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said that imprisoning 120,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II was fine under the Constitution. Mr. Korematsu was jailed for opposing President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s imprisonment order.

While Mr. Korematsu lost in the Supreme Court in 1944, he and those who supported him didn’t give up fighting.  In the early 1980s, a group of dedicated professors and lawyers discovered that the government in 1944 had deliberately misled the U.S. Supreme Court by withholding reports that Japanese-Americans posed no security threat.  Due to this startling revelation, which the government conceded, The Honorable Marilyn Hall Patel of the Northern District of California vacated his conviction in 1983.  This did not, however, overturn the centerpiece of the 1944 Supreme Court decision-that the President had the authority to jail Americans solely on account of race.In 1998, President Bill Clinton awarded Mr. Korematsu the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  He died seven years later.  To commemorate Mr. Korematsu’s birthday, on January 30, 2011, California under then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger became the first state to observe the annual Fred T. Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and theConstitution.  In 2017, New York City passed a resolution to honor Mr. Korematsu today, his birthday.

Last year, when the Supreme Court upheld President Trump’s Travel Ban in Trump v. Hawaii, it for the first time saidKorematsu v. United States was decided wrongly. Chief Justice Roberts declared “[t]he forcible relocation of U.S. citizens to concentration camps, solely and explicitly on the basis of race, is objectively unlawful and outside the scope of presidential authority…Korematsu was gravely wrong the day it was decided, has been overruled in the court of history, and – to be clear – ‘has no place in law under the Constitution.’”

Vinoo Varghese standing alongside Karen Korematsu, daughter of Fred Korematsu
Vinoo Varghese standing alongside Karen Korematsu, daughter of Fred Korematsu

For the past 12 years, Vinoo has been part of a team from AABANY that has put on various historical reenactments under the tutelage of The Honorable Denny Chin of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and his wife, Kathy Chin. Also participating tonight will be The Honorable Kiyo Matsumoto of the Eastern District of New York and The Honorable Ona T. Wang of the Southern District of New York.

The AABANY cast of Fred Korematsu and His Fight for Justice
The AABANY cast of Fred Korematsu and His Fight for Justice

Why O.J. Simpson Should Still Be Killing Time in Prison

For the past fifty years, O.J. Simpson has been a household name. He was a football legend beloved by millions until his infamous 1995 trial and acquittal for double murder. The subject of O.J.’s trial today is still a sore one as the majority of the United States believes O.J. to be a vicious murderer who walked free.

Trial by jury is an imperfect system. Sometimes, guilty people go free and innocent people are convicted.

In O.J. Simpson’s case, most people believe he was guilty despite the 1995 not-guilty verdict in the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman.

More than a decade later, in 2008, Simpson was sentenced to 33 years in prison for armed robbery and kidnapping. That sentence has been called excessive and “retribution” for the sentence he didn’t get for the murders.

He has served nine of those years and the parole board of Nevada has decided that Simpson will be released in October.

The question remains: Should O.J. Simpson be released? The answer is no. Simpson was a danger to society before he was jailed and will continue to be so on the outside.

The parole board’s members professed that their duty was to deal solely with Simpson’s 2008 conviction in their consideration of his eligibility. They also had a duty to considerhis violent history, any rehabilitation attempts in jail, and his level of remorse.

Many of the facts that came out in the 1995 double-murder trial, and subsequent civil suit in which he was found liable for murder, are exceptionally relevant to whether Simpson should be allowed back on the streets.

The board asked him about his history with alcohol and the programs he has undergone in prison. He denied having an alcohol problem, and his answers reflected that he didn’t show remorse or take responsibility for his actions underlying his robbery and kidnapping conviction.

Photo from ABC News
Simpson has admitted to beating his wife, and there is ample evidence that he did. He was found liable by a civil jury for the murders of two people. He was convicted of armed robbery and kidnapping.

He may have been a model inmate for the past nine years, but that isn’t the same as being a model citizen.