I published an op-ed today marking the seventieth anniversary of the closing of the last of the World War II “Relocation Centers” established by the federal government to intern Japanese Americans during the War. The anniversary constitutes an appropriate occasion to recognize an unsung hero in the movement to close the internment camps: Mitsuye Endo. Endo’s habeas corpus petition posed the only direct challenge to the camps to reach the Supreme Court and invoked the Suspension Clause to argue—correctly—that the government had no general authority to detain citizens without criminal charges. (Notably, when the military proposed the policy, several prominent lawyers in the Roosevelt Administration recognized that interning citizens would violate the Suspension Clause.)
After filing her habeas petition, Endo turned down the government’s offer of release in order to keep her case from becoming moot, eventually setting the stage for the Supreme Court finally to address the lawfulness of the internment policy. (As the government argued in its opposing brief to the Court, Endo “refuse[d]” to apply for the necessary permit for release.) Endo’s stance resulted in her spending two additional years in internment camps while her case made its way to the Court. In the end, the Court unanimously sided with Endo, albeit in what was a narrow ruling that glossed over the broader constitutional problems with the internment policy. Internal Court documents suggest that the Chief Justice held up the decision to give President Roosevelt time to act ahead of the Court and announce that the military would begin lifting evacuation orders and closing the camps. Once the announcement came, the Court handed down Ex parte Endo the next day. The closing of the camps commenced within weeks of the decision, with the last—Tule Lake—closing seventy years ago, in 1946. On the occasion of the anniversary of the closing of the last of the camps, it is time to recognize Mitsuye Endo’s enormous personal sacrifice to accomplish that end and award her one of our nation’s highest honors, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.