When National Security Trumps Individual Rights


On December 18, 1944, the Supreme Court handed down one of its most controversial decisions when it upheld the government’s decision to intern all persons of Japanese ancestry on the grounds of national security. Over two-thirds of the Japanese in America were citizens, and the internment took away their constitutional rights.

In 1942, Fred Korematsu, a 22-year-old Japanese American, refused an evacuation order and was arrested, then convicted of a felony. He challenged his conviction in court on constitutional grounds, and the case was appealed to the Supreme Court. Korematsu lost his Supreme Court case in a 6-3 decision, but when new evidence surfaced 40 years later that proved the government had withheld evidence, Korematsu went back to federal court to have his conviction vacated. This time, he won.

Fred Korematsu was an ordinary citizen who took an extraordinary stand. Through his pursuit of justice, the country learned about what can happen when national security trumps civil liberties.

In this lesson, based on the Annenberg Classroom video “Korematsu and Civil Liberties,” students evaluate the consequences of past events and decisions related to the Supreme Court case Korematsu v. United States (1944). They consider the challenges involved when trying to balance civil liberties and national security during threatening times and reflect on the lessons learned about civil liberties from the justices in Korematsu.

The estimated time for the lesson plan is three days.

Download the lesson plan