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Dale Minami accepts ABA Medal for all Asian Pacific Americans

In honoring him with the ABA Medal, San Francisco attorney Dale Minami said the association recognizes “the entire Asian Pacific American community,” who have historically been “invisible bystanders in the American consciousness.” 

ABA President Bob Carlson (left) presents the 2019 ABA Medal, the association's highest honor, to San Francisco attorney Dale Minami (right).

ABA President Bob Carlson (left) presents the 2019 ABA Medal, the association's highest honor, to San Francisco attorney Dale Minami (right).

“We’re not invisible anymore,” said the lifelong champion of the civil rights of Asian Pacific Americans and other minorities. He received the ABA’s highest honor, which recognizes exceptionally distinguished service by a lawyer or lawyers to the cause of American jurisprudence, on Aug. 10 at the ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

Minami, senior counsel with the personal injury law firm Minami Tamaki LLP, is best known for leading the legal team that overturned the conviction of Fred Korematsu, an American of Japanese descent who was arrested for refusing to enter an internment center in 1942. Korematsu’s case led to the historic challenge of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II in the case Korematsu v. United States.

Reflecting on his own family’s experience, Minami said that when his grandparents arrived in the U.S. from Japan in the early 1900s, they faced a “wall of laws denying them the chance to be citizens.”

Still, his parents were “thoroughly Americanized and on their path to the American dream,” when World War II “cruelly interrupted” their lives. Like 120,000 other Japanese Americans, they were sent to an internment camp.

“Their crime was racial ancestry; the justification was military necessity,” Minami said.

At the University of California Berkeley School of Law Minami read Korematsu and two other internment cases from the 1940s.  “The government concocted “a flimsy theory” that “the peculiar ethnic characteristics of Japanese Americans predisposed them to disloyalty and therefore made them dangerous,” he said.

In 1982, a professor and lawyer discovered evidence that the government had “altered, suppressed and destroyed critical evidence” in the three internment cases from the ‘40s. The next year, Minami and his team successfully challenged the constitutionality of the internment in Korematsu v. United States. The judge noted “serious misconduct,” including that “racism most likely affected those military orders.” In 1988, President Ronald Reagan granted Japanese Americans who had been interned $20,000 each and an apology.

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