May 19, 2009

A lawyer friend of Densho, Eric Muller, answered online questions from Washington Post readers about Ashcroft v. Iqbal, a case the Supreme Court declined to hear on May 18. The Washington Post reports, “The Supreme Court ruled…that former attorney general John D. Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III may not be sued by a Pakistani man who was seized in the United States after the 2001 terrorist attacks and who alleged harsh treatment because of his religion and ethnicity.”

A reader in Fairfax, VA, asked: “If one could show that Mueller and Ashcroft specifically sought to round up American citizens only because of their religion (Muslim) and for no other reason, but did not specifically encourage or turn a blind eye to mistreatment of these people, would they still get off scot-free? Why is this not equivalent to the Japanese-American internment camps, or are those still considered to have been constitutional?”

Eric replied: “Suffice it to say that while there are major differences between the conditions in which Japanese Americans were held from ’42 to ’45 and the abuse that Iqbal and others allege they endured, there is a common core to the two scenarios — the identification and detention of an internal ‘enemy,’ in whole or in part, on the basis of race … a sad reminiscence of the Supreme Court’s eagerness in 1944 to put the best possible face on the evacuation orders against Japanese Americans.”

Eric is a professor at University of North Carolina School of Law and the author of American Inquisition: The Hunt for Japanese American Disloyalty in World War II.