U.S. Supreme Court rightly condemns Korematsu decision in travel ban ruling

Editor’s note: Breaking views are thoughts from individual members of the editorial board on today’s headlines.

On Tuesday, United States Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of the Trump administration’s ability to impose travel restrictions on people from Iran, North Korea, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Venezuela.

In brief, the court found that federal immigration law “grants the President broad discretion to suspend the entry of aliens into the United States,” and that President Trump “lawfully exercised that discretion based on his findings—following a worldwide, multi-agency review—that entry of the covered aliens would be detrimental to the national interest.”

The majority made a point of noting that the decision deals with the powers of the president under the law, not the soundness of the travel ban itself.

“The Government has set forth a sufficient national security justification to survive rational basis review,” wrote Chief Justice Roberts for the majority. “We express no view on the soundness of the policy. We simply hold today that plaintiffs have not demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of their constitutional claim.”

In contrast, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, argued “a reasonable observer would conclude that the Proclamation was motivated by anti-Muslim animus. That alone suffices to show thatplaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their Establishment Clause claim.”

While I’m inclined to agree with Sotomayor and Ginsburg that Trump’s travel ban was motivated by anti-Muslim animus, the court’s ruling is what it is and it’s up to Congress to set things right. (But good luck with that, Congress has shown a stellar ability to do little right for a long time. This should be a lesson of the consequences of granting government in general and the executive branch in particular so much power.)

One positive take away from the court’s decision is the clear condemnation of the disgraceful Korematsu decision, a 1944 case which the Supreme Court ruled  that internment of Japanese Americans during World War II was constitutional.

In response to dissenters in the travel ban case invoking the Korematsu decision, the majority swept such comparisons aside, writing “whatever rhetorical advantage the dissent may see in doing so, Korematsu has nothing to do with this case.”

The majority then went on to set things right.

“The dissent’s reference to Korematsu, however, affords this Court the opportunity to make express what is already obvious: 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,’” they wrote, quoting from Justice Robert Jackson’s dissent in the Korematsu case.

At the very least, the majority got that right.

It is worth mentioning that former Orange County Register publisher R.C. Hoiles was one of the few newspaper publishers in the country to oppose Japanese American internment at the time, writing in 1942 that, “Few, if any, people ever believed that evacuation of the Japanese was constitutional. It was a result of emotion and fright rather than being in harmony with the Constitution and the inherent rights that belong to all citizens.”

Sal Rodriguez is an editorial writer and columnist for the Southern California News Group. He may be reached at salrodriguez@scng.com

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