Korematsu v. United States Trial Re-Enactment

What makes law school worth it, in my opinion, is not the time spent with our noses buried in our textbooks or the late nights spent outlining for exams. It’s the everyday interactions you have with the people around you, and the spaces curated for you by fellow students who want to see you thrive and succeed in a comfortable environment. One such space is APALSA.

I have had the honor of being President of APALSA for the past school year. APALSA is the affinity group dedicated for law students who are of Asian-American and Pacific Island (AAPI) descent, yet it is so much more than that. APALSA provides a safe space for AAPI students to bond and socialize over mutual interests and backgrounds. In a predominantly white institution, it is easy to feel out of place as a student of color. APALSA aims to provide a welcoming environment where students can feel comfortable asking questions and having conversations that may be otherwise difficult to have with non-APALSA students. We pride ourselves on being an inclusive community, with most of our events being open to the general public so that they can share and partake in bits of our culture that we grew up on, whether through the delicious food we serve at general body meetings, the advice we offer during our attorney panels, or the social events we organize for students. 

This year, APALSA undertook a project like no other: a trial re-enactment of Korematsu v. United States.

One of the goals we had for the year was to educate the community about issues that impact the AAPI community, and also to encourage good relationships between the students and attorneys in the area. One thing I noticed in Constitutional Law was that Korematsu v. United States was often glossed over by conlaw professors, if they taught it at all. To me, this case holds a lot of significance, not just for the Asian-American legal community, but the Asian-American community at large and the world. In the case, the Supreme Court upheld that it was constitutional to exclude Japanese-Americans from the West Coast military area during World War II, using the bombing of Pearl Harbor as an excuse to enable racial discrimination. In a 6-3 decision, the Court held that the need to protect against espionage by Japan outweighed the rights of Americans of Japanese ancestry.

Defendant Fred Korematsu lived during a time where racial tensions against Asian-Americans were at an all-time high. The law failed to protect him and thousands of other Japanese-Americans who were forced into internment camps in the name of “protecting the nation.” The Supreme Court effectively applied the strict scrutiny standard of review to the US government’s racial discrimination, being only one of the few cases where the Court held that the government met the standard.

It was egregious to me and other members of APALSA that this case was not focused on more intently in class, especially during the strict scrutiny portion of our con law curriculum. So we decided to go use the Korematsu script and stage a re-enactment of the trial. We hoped that despite the limited seats we had for an audience, we could educate and mobilize a new generation of lawyers to convince constitutional law professors to go into this case in more detail. We wanted to use this re-enactment as an opportunity for 1Ls to learn more about the case, while showcasing their public speaking skills to participating attorneys. We also hoped that attorneys would learn something new and reflect back on their time in law school and how much has changed since then.

Now, being in law school is difficult; that’s certainly a no-brainer for anyone who’s reading this article. But being a law student involved in a trial re-enactment of a landmark Supreme Court decision is another beast altogether.

APALSA began to recruit actors towards the end of first semester. We prioritized giving roles to 1Ls who had just finished their first semester and were now heading into a networking-heavy second semester.

Admittedly, it was difficult finding actors at first. 1Ls were worried about having to memorize lines (ultimately, they did not have to), and the commitment this would take. But most of all, students worried about putting another responsibility on their plates on top of everything else that was required of them as 1Ls. These were justifiable concerns; everyone who has gone through it remembers how difficult 1L year was. Despite that, numerous 1Ls stepped up to the plate, determined to pull this event together. 2Ls and 3Ls also took on smaller roles to give 1Ls the spotlight.

Everyone put their trust into the APALSA E-board, even though this was the first time we had pulled together an event of this nature. Behind the scenes, the board worked incredibly hard to make it all happen. We reached out to AABANY for permission to use the script, and AALAM for preliminary sponsorship and aid in kickstarting our fundraising efforts for this event. We had to account for the costs of food and drinks during the networking event, as well as the cost of making and binding scripts, props such as judge’s robes, and gifts for attendees. We reached out to over twenty different law firms in Boston, asking them if they would be amenable to sending over attorneys as well as a monetary support to help fund the event. 

We did hit a few bumps in the road. Due to everyone’s conflicting schedules, it was difficult to find a time that worked for rehearsals. We did our best to work around this by doing a read-through of the script over Zoom, and scheduling two in-person sessions where most people could make it so that we could go over stage directions. We changed things up slightly role-wise between the first and second rehearsals, which created a bit of confusion. We were also worried about attorneys not being able to make the re-enactment due to last-minute changes in their schedules, or finding enough firm sponsorships. Despite all of these challenges, we managed to get everything in order and fundraise around $2900 for this event. We even had ten firms represented at the networking session, with over fifteen AAPI-identifying attorneys attending.

The day of the re-enactment was electrifying. We knew that it had been a long day for everyone, and the actors were very nervous to perform in front of an actual audience instead of empty seats. However, as they walked in and saw each other their confidence increased. They knew everyone was in the same boat and a great night awaited them. Professors Reena Parikh and Evangeline Sarda sat in the crowd, eager to observe the re-enactment along with the attorneys and other students and community members.

The students took the audience through an hour-long re-enactment of not just the trial of Fred Korematsu, but Fred Korematsu’s life and the circumstances surrounding his conviction. The re-enactment emphasized the legal aid team that took on Korematsu’s case, the racist vitriol of Americans against Japanese-Americans at the time, the opinions of the Supreme Court, and the aftermath of the case. Although this began as a somber reminder of the wrongdoings of the Supreme Court, it evolved into a story of hope and a story of resilience: Fred Korematsu’s fight for equality in the face of gross injustice. 

This re-enactment could not have come together without the support of the community. It was a testament to the dedication that the AAPI legal community has towards AAPI students at BC Law, as well as the willingness of students to partake in an extracurricular activity that taught them new lessons and gave them a platform to speak on. Barat House bustled with energy after the event, with students and attorneys bonding over the experience and getting the opportunity to network in an intimate setting.

Overall, the event was a huge success, and we achieved our goals of educating the community and providing a space to foster relationships between students and attorneys. We can only hope that the experience lasts beyond this E-board’s time, and that it will continue to grow and evolve into a bigger event that involves even more of the BC Law community going forward.

Seung Hye Shang Yang is a second-year student at BC Law. Contact her at yangben@bc.edu.

One thought on “Korematsu v. United States Trial Re-Enactment

  1. Pingback: A Sobering Retelling – Boston College Law School Magazine

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