Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer said in an interview with National Public Radio that there was no justification for the internment of Japanese Americans.

The topic came up earlier this month when Breyer was discussing his new book, “The Court and the World: American Law and the New Global Realities,” with NPR’s Nina Totenberg.

Until the mid-20th century, presidents could do as they wished during wartime, Breyer said, noting that the Supreme Court upheld the internment during World War II. “We put 70,000 American citizens of Japanese origin into camps for no good reason at all.”

The court allowed that because, as Breyer put it, the justices figured “someone has to be in charge,” and better the president than the Supreme Court.

But during the Korean War, Breyer continued, the court ruled that President Harry Truman could not seize the nation’s steel mills to keep them operating during a wartime labor dispute.

In cases involving prisoners held indefinitely without charge at Guantanamo Bay after 9/11, the Supreme Court ruled that the president does not have a blank check to violate civil liberties during wartime and that prisoners have the right to challenge the grounds for their imprisonment, Breyer said.

“The nature of security problems has changed,” he observed. “It’s not straight-out war … And if you say that the president has a blank check, then you’re back to … the Japanese camps.”

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