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Legendary attorney to receive ABA’s highest honor

The American Bar Association will honor San Francisco attorney Dale Minami, a lifelong champion of the civil rights of Asian Pacific Americans and other minorities, with the ABA Medal — the association’s highest honor.

Minami 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. His case led to the historic challenge of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II in the case Korematsu v. United States.

Dale Minami

Dale Minami

The ABA Medal recognizes exceptionally distinguished service by a lawyer or lawyers to the cause of American jurisprudence. Minami, senior counsel with the personal injury law firm Minami Tamaki LLP, will be presented with the ABA Medal at the ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco during the General Assembly on Saturday, Aug. 10, from 4:30-6 p.m. at the San Francisco Marriott Marquis.

“Dale Minami has devoted a lifetime to breaking down stereotypes and advocating for Asian Pacific Americans,” ABA President Bob Carlson said. “His work in overturning Korematsu is legal legend, but it is just one of many instances in his career where he has fought for the protection of the rights of people who have been discriminated against. His determination and commitment to the rule of law has resulted in countless people receiving justice.”

Minami was key in obtaining judicial recognition that the evacuation and incarceration of more than 100,000 Japanese Americans during World War II was unjust and illegal. Although the Supreme Court in 1944 upheld the constitutionality of the internment in Korematsu v. United States, Minami and his team successfully challenged that ruling 40 years later.

With documents discovered in 1981 from the National Archives that demonstrated that government officials knowingly used false evidence to justify its evacuation order, Minami assembled the legal teams that petitioned the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to vacate the convictions of Korematsu and two other Japanese Americans convicted of similar misconduct allegations.

Serving as lead counsel for Korematsu in 1983, Minami prevailed in voiding the conviction; while the two other defendants also had their convictions overturned in separate cases. In 2017, Minami, representing the adult children of Korematsu, filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court review of the government’s travel ban, which resulted in the High Court’s explicit repudiation of the 1944 Korematsu decision via its review of Trump v. Hawaii.

“As an attorney in a small minority-owned law firm, I was a bit surprised when Bob Carlson, the president of the ABA, even called me, then astonished when he informed me that I was chosen as the ABA Medal recipient,” Minami said.  “Given the list of illustrious past awardees, I now just think it is surreal, yet still a testament to the ABA’s recognition of Asian Pacific American attorneys as integral members of the ABA and legal profession. I am grateful.”

Minami’s dedication to civil rights extends far beyond the Korematsu victory. Early in his career, he served as lead counsel in numerous landmark cases involving the rights of Asian Pacific Americans: Chann vs. Scott, a class action lawsuit against the San Francisco Police Department to enjoin the unconstitutional arrests and detention of young Asian Americans; United Pilipinos for Affirmative Action v. California Blue Shield, the first class-action employment lawsuit brought by Asian Pacific Americans on behalf of Asian Pacific Americans; Spokane JACL v. Washington State University, a class action on behalf of Asian Pacific Americans to establish an Asian American Studies program at Washington State University; and Nakanishi v. UCLA, a claim for unfair denial of tenure that resulted in the granting of tenure after several hearings and widespread publicity over discrimination in academia.

Notably, Minami worked with others in the Asian American community to form some of the organizations that are still the powerhouses for Asian civil rights. He was a co-founder of the Asian Law Caucus, the first community interest law firm serving Asian Pacific Americans in the country; a co-founder of the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area, the first Asian American Bar Association in the United States; an original incorporator of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund; the Asian Pacific Bar of California; and the Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans — one of the nation’s first political action committees focused on Asian American candidates and issues.

Minami has also been involved in the judicial appointment process and in establishing or influencing public policy and legislation. President Bill Clinton appointed him as chair of the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund in January 1996. Minami has served as a member of the 4 California Fair Employment and Housing Commission and has chaired the California Attorney General’s Asian Pacific Advisory Committee, advising the state’s attorney general on key issues. He has also served as a commissioner on the State Bar’s Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation and on Sen. Barbara Boxer’s Judicial Screening Committee, which made recommendations for federal judicial appointments.

Minami received a B.A. in political science from the University of Southern California in 1968 and his J.D. in 1971 from Boalt Hall School of Law (now Berkeley Law), University of California.

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