Peter Irons

(b. 1940) Attorney, Coram nobis cases.

Learning About the Internment Finding the Smoking Gun Closing the Korematsu Case Lesson to be Learned

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Peter Irons was born in Salem, MA in 1940. While a student at Antioch College, Irons became involved in political and social activism and organized demonstrations addressing racial inequality, the war in Vietnam, and workers’ rights. In 1966, Irons was sentenced to three years in prison for resisting the draft. After his release, Irons earned a Ph.D. in political science and entered Harvard Law School. While a law student, he filed a writ of coram nobis with the court and succeeded in having his conviction vacated. Irons decided on a career in teaching and eventually joined the faculty of the University of California at San Diego.

The discovery of key documents at the National Archives by Aiko Yoshinaga Herzig enabled Irons to mobilize the effort to challenge the Supreme Court rulings in the “internment cases.” The evidence was used to show the U.S. government’s misconduct during World War II by refuting the rationale of “military necessity” for the mass incarceration of persons of Japanese ancestry in 1942. Coram nobis petitions were filed in 1983 for three cases: Hirabayashi, Yasui, and Korematsu, resulting in the successful overturning of each conviction. Justice was finally served, but just as important, the victory in court legitimized the call for redress. (April 15, 2008)

civil rights education Gordon Hirabayashi korematsu law school coram nobis government law politics incarceration internment

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