Justice Black’s majority opinion in Korematsu v. United States
never questioned the judgment of military authorities that there were
disloyal members of the Japanese and Japanese American population. The
opinion also never questioned the military’s assertion that the number
of disloyal people could not be quickly determined.
". . . we cannot reject as unfounded the judgment of the military
authorities and of Congress that there were disloyal members of that
population, whose number and strength could not be precisely and quickly
Nonetheless, while in the internment camps, a loyalty questionnaire
was distributed, partly to determine who could have been eligible to
serve in the military and partly to determine who may have required
further confinement. Justice Black made reference to this questionnaire
in his decision:
"That there were members of the group who retained loyalties to
Japan has been confirmed by investigations made subsequent to the
exclusion. Approximately five thousand American citizens of Japanese
ancestry refused to swear unqualified allegiance to the United States
and to renounce allegiance to the Japanese Emperor . . . ."
So while accepting the military’s assertion that the entire group had
to be confined because they could not quickly ascertain who was loyal
and disloyal, Justice Black used the numbers obtained from a simple
questionnaire to support the military’s opinion that some people of
Japanese origin were disloyal.
Putting aside this contradiction in logic, an examination of the
loyalty questionnaire reveals the difficulties it must have presented
for the internees and their families.
Questions to consider
Download the loyalty questionnaire and address the following questions:
Which questions on the form do you think are relevant to determine a person’s loyalty to the United States? Explain.
Which questions on the form do you think are irrelevant to determine a person’s loyalty to the United States? Explain.
Look carefully at questions 27 and 28. These were given special
attention by the military authorities and are referred to in Justice
Black’s opinion. People who answered “no” to these questions were
considered to be disloyal.
- Can you think of reasons why a person would answer “no” to question 27 other than disloyalty?
Visit the Smithsonian’s A More Perfect Union web site to read what the internees thought about the questionnaire and to see an original copy of it.