Two of the three most infamous Supreme Court decisions were erased by events. The Civil War and postwar constitutional amendments effectively overturned Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), which held that blacks could never have rights that whites must respect. Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which upheld legally enforced segregation, was undone by court decisions and legislation.
The third, Korematsu v. United States (1944), which affirmed the president’s wartime power to sweep Americans of disfavored racial groups into concentration camps, elicited a 1988 congressional apology. Now Peter Irons, founder of the Earl Warren Bill of Rights Project at the University of California at San Diego, is campaigning for a Supreme Court “repudiation” of the Korematsu decision and other Japanese internment rulings. Such repudiation, if it occurred, would be unprecedented.
An essay Irons is circulating among constitutional law professors whose support he seeks is timely reading in today’s context of anti-constitutional presidencies, particularly regarding war powers.