UH Law School Professor Eric Yamamoto Examines Those Lessons His New Book, “In the Shadow of Korematsu”
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
To many of us, we are living in an America that today appears increasingly unrecognizable. As our nation makes a hard turn to the right, we are voyaging through the shadow side of the American dream. Instead of listening to our higher angels of compassion, justice and tolerance, we have as a nation retreated into the darkness of isolationism, exclusion and persecution. The landmarks of this new geography may look the same as yesterday, but the terrain is decidedly different.
Into this morass has come a remarkable book from Oxford University Press, a leading academic publisher, that attempts to offer a way out of our current dystopia. Penned by legal scholar and University of Hawai‘i William S. Richardson School of Law professor Eric K. Yamamoto, “In the Shadow of Korematsu: Democratic Liberties and National Security” is a clear-eyed yet eloquent appeal to common sense and reason in a time of chaos.
The subject is more than academic to Eric Yamamoto, the Richardson School of Law’s Fred T. Korematsu Professor of Law and Social Justice. In the 1980s, as a young practicing attorney in Honolulu, he left his law firm to join his mentors and classmates from the University of California Berkeley law school in San Francisco, who were pulling together the coram nobis case of Fred Korematsu, a San Leandro draftsman. The experience changed Yamamoto’s life forever. He never returned to law practice, deciding instead to teach aspiring young lawyers about America’s Constitution and the wartime injustice that had been dealt to Fred Korematsu and Japanese Americans on the West Coast and in Hawai‘i.
In teaching and writing about the law and social justice, Yamamoto found his calling. He was recognized nationally as the 2006 Outstanding Law Professor by the Society of American Law Teachers and has been awarded the University of Hawai‘i’s Regents Medal for Teaching Excellence. Besides “In the Shadow of Korematsu,” Yamamoto also authored the award-winning “Interracial Justice: Conflict and Reconciliation in Post-Civil Rights America” in 2000, and “Race, Rights and Reparation: Law and the Japanese American Internment” in 2013.
While Yamamoto says his latest work is a specific examination of the role of the courts and the importance of judicial independence, his book goes far beyond that narrow boundary as he tries to help us make sense of a world that has turned upside down.
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Alan Suemori teaches Asian American history at ‘Iolani School. He is a former Hawai’i Herald staff writer.