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Michigan Legal Milestones
24. Murphy's Dissent

Michigan's U.S. Supreme Court Justice Frank Murphy wrote an impassioned dissent in Korematsu, protesting the decision to uphold exclusion orders imposed upon persons of Japanese descent during World War II. Dedicated and placed in front of the Frank Murphy home in Harbor Beach on August 16, 1996.


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Murphy's Dissent

A hostile climate confronted Americans of Japanese descent following the attack on Pearl Harbor that led to United States' entry into World War II. Despite their loyalty and distinguished service in our armed forces, Japanese Americans were considered suspect simply because of their ancestry.

Against this backdrop of racial discrimination, Harbor Beach native Frank Murphy, then a justice of the United States Supreme Court, spoke forcefully for the rights of all Americans by dissenting from a decision that upheld the exclusion from certain areas and forced internment of 112,000 persons of Japanese descent.

Fred Korematsu was a young Japanese American who was ordered by the military to leave his home and report to an internment camp. In 1944, a United States Supreme Court majority upheld his exclusion as a valid exercise of military authority.

In his dissent, Justice Murphy condemned the majority's decision and rejected its reasoning. Justice Murphy wrote that the decision was nothing more than the "legalization of racism" and concluded, "Racial discrimination in any form in any degree has no justifiable part whatever in our democratic way of life. It is unattractive in any setting, but it is utterly revolting among a free people who have embraced the principles set forth in the Constitution of the United States."

In a belated apology, the U.S. Congress in 1988 voted to compensate those still alive who had been forced into internment camps during World War II.

Harbor Beach native Judge James Lincoln, a friend and colleague, said of Frank Murphy's dissent, "In the worst of times, he did the best of things."

Placed by the State Bar of Michigan, Huron County Bar Association, and Asian American Bar Association, 1996.