In a May 5 hearing before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Justice Rebecca Bradley sought to make comparisons between the state-ordered “Safer at Home” guidelines and the mass incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II.

Rebecca Bradley

According to CNN, the comments were made during a virtual hearing held by the seven-member panel with lawyers for both the state and the Republican-led State Legislature, which filed a lawsuit last month in an attempt to reopen the state and block the extension of the stay-at-home order issued by state health officials to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“I’ll direct your attention to another time in history, in the Korematsu decision, where the (Supreme Court) said the need for action was great and time was short and that justified, and I’m quoting, ‘assembling together and placing under guard all those of Japanese ancestry’ in assembly centers during World War II,” said Bradley, while addressing Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General Colin Roth.

“Could the secretary under this broad delegation of legislative power or legislative-like power order people out of their homes into centers where are they are properly social distanced in order to combat the pandemic?” she asked, adding: “The point of my question is what are the limits, constitutional or statutory? There have to be some, don’t there, counsel?”

Bradley suggested that the state’s stay-at-home order is “the very definition of tyranny.”

The Japanese American Citizens League rejected the historical comparison as an insult to Japanese Americans who suffered the unconstitutional injustices of incarceration.

JACL Wisconsin Chapter President Ron Kuramoto states: “I believe Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley poses a false equivalency when she uses the “Safer at Home” policy as a comparison for Executive Order 9066, which forced my parents, extended family, and over 120,000 Japanese Americans out of their homes and into, in some cases, horse stalls at Santa Anita Racetrack in California, then transferred and imprisoned my own and other families for over three years in shoddily built tarpaper barracks in the desert or other desolate places. Bradley’s hyperbole denigrates my parent’s suffering and endurance.”

JACL has previously called for caution in the invocation of historical comparisons to COVID-19 response. Kuramoto said, “To ask all Wisconsin residents to shelter in their homes for a short, defined period of weeks, as a response to a public health crisis like a pandemic, bears no relation to the intentional, legally unjustifiable thinking that imprisoned my family indefinitely, and forced them to sell — not suspend — their businesses.

“Bradley may believe that she is arguing constitutional principles, but her claim of a non-existent equivalency distorts the conversation and denigrates the history and experience of Japanese Americans.”

The National JACL added, “While the impacts of COVID-19 are tremendous and cannot be denied, this is a pain that we are all suffering together, as a nation, in the effort to save lives.”

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