Roosevelt kin speaks on Japanese internment, refugee backlash
The great-great-grandson of Theodore Roosevelt and distant cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke at the Georgetown based Harvard Club about his new historical novel and legal thriller, which examines the constitutionality of Japanese internment during World War II, and the balance between liberty and security in a free society.
Kermit Roosevelt III, a former clerk of Supreme Court Justice David Souter now teaching constitutional law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, published in the later summer “Allegiance,” a fictional tale surrounding his cousin’s sweeping use of executive authority against Japanese Americans during World War II.
The book, with characters including such historical figures as Supreme Court Justices Hugo Black and Felix Frankfurter, has received praise from major conservative-leaning newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal and Richmond Times-Dispatch.
“There’s a cycle that repeats itself in American history: we fear, we perpetrate injustice and we regret it,” Mr. Roosevelt told The Washington Times. “We hurt innocent people who pose no threat because they remind us somehow of those who do. It happened after Pearl Harbor with the detention of Japanese Americans, it happened after 9/11 with the CIA torture program and we see it happening again with some of the suggestions made in response to the Paris attack. But if we learn from history, we can break out of that cycle. This book aims to help us understand why we react the way we do so that we can avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.”
Mr. Roosevelt’s book tour comes in the midst of a global debate about migration following the Nov. 13 Islamic State attacks on Paris, which killed 130 people and left 368 injured. The attacks rattled the Western world, prompting French President Francois Hollande to declare a state of emergency and launch escalated airstrikes against Raqqa, the Syrian city where the Islamic State is headquartered.
In the U.S., the House of Representatives passed legislation to enhance scrutiny on Syrian and Iraqi refugees, while 31 governors expressed public opposition to accepting more refugees from those countries.
Last week, the debate between government intrusion and national security heated after Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump said the U.S. should engage in “surveillance of certain mosques,” and that he would “absolutely take a database on the people coming in from Syria.”
In “Allegiance,” Mr. Roosevelt provides legal analysis of American jurisprudence concerning Japanese internment and the legal limits of national security, including Korematsu v. United States, the landmark case that upheld the constitutionality of Executive Order 9066, in which President Franklin Roosevelt ordered JapaneseAmericans into internment camps.
“The Korematsu case shows the limits of what courts can do by themselves,” Mr. Roosevelt explained. “Justice Black’s opinion in Korematsu stated that racial classifications that curtailed the civil rights of a single racial group should be strictly scrutinized. But the court then failed to perform that scrutiny, accepting very implausible justifications for driving Americans from their homes. What this shows is that the Court by itself is probably incapable of standing up against claims of military necessity.”
Of the three justices who dissented against the Japanese internment, one was Justice Owen Roberts, the lone Republican pick on the court.