Korematsu v. United States & Robert H. Jackson’s Dissenting Opinion

Aims & Purpose

Four steps for a zero prep, Common Core friendly, two 40-mintue, interactive class lessons for the U.S History and English 11 classrooms complete with easy access to handouts and videoclips. Designed for implementation in U.S. History during the WWII unit. This lesson can be used as a cross-curricular project in conjunction with English 11.

NYS Social Studies Framework Standards:

11.8b United States entry into World War II had a significant impact on American Society

NYS Common Core English Regents Part 2 Styled Essay

Students will examine:

  • the reasons for President Roosevelt's executive order for Japanese removal,
  • the impact of removal on Japanese people living in the United States, and
  • the Supreme Court's decision in Korematsu v. United States (1944)


Step 1: Setting the Stage

5 minutes - Introduction & Background

Bombing of Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941
Credit: The Robert H. Jackson Center

Post Pearl Harbor, the United States was launched into a war it was not prepared to fight. The ensuing panic that Pearl Harbor caused led President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to pass controversial Executive Order 9066, which led to the internment of over 120,000 American citizens of Japanese descent. Fred Korematsu, a second generation American, felt his rights were denied by the United States government via racial discrimination, and he did not report for the internment as per the President’s directive.

Eventually, Korematsu was caught and detained. He immediately took his case to the courts where in 1944 it eventually made its way to the Supreme Court in Korematsu v. United States. Justice Robert H. Jackson was a dissenting voice in the 6-3 decision upholding the constitutionality of the internment camps.

Step 2: Reasons for Executive Order 9066

20 minutes

Executive Order 9066

After reading the introduction and background, students will be introduced to Executive Order 9066. They will complete a directed close read of Executive Order 9066.  This handout will ask the students to annotate as they read. After annotation, teacher will facilitate a student led classroom discussion on the reasons for Executive Order 9066 and how it was executed.

Step 2: Impact of Removal on Japanese People in the United States

15 minutes

Excepts from Taking the Stand - Lorraine K. Bannai

Next, students will focus on the impact of Executive Order 9066 on the Japanese Americans, specifically Fred Korematsu, by viewing a clip from Liberty Under Law (Korematsu Segment 6:44). Students should be encouraged to take notes while watching, focusing on the lives of Japanese Americans in internments camps.

After viewing the video, handout Fred Korematsu excerpts from Taking the Stand by Lorraine K. Bannai. By having the students complete the handout, they will have a full understanding of the impact of Executive Order 9066 on Japanese American citizens.

Step 3: Korematsu v. United States

40 minutes - Become a Justice of the United States Supreme Court

Grandfather of Japanese ancestry teaching his little grandson to walk at this War Relocation Authority center for evacuees.
Credit: Dorothea Lange, U.S. National Archives

Korematsu v United States T-chart

Reflecting back on the video clip from  Liberty Under Law,  discuss Justices Hugo Black and Robert H. Jackson’s differing opinions on Korematsu v. United States decision. Students will complete a t-chart that focuses on the differing opinions of Justices Black and Justice Jackson.

After the video, students should be divided into two or four groups (depending on class size). Each side will be assigned either Justice Black or Justice Jackson. Give the students five minutes to discuss the opinion and prepare for a debate in which they will “argue” their stance. For a more in-depth analysis of the decisions, handout the actual Justices’ opinions for review (links to full opinion are provided on this page). To facilitate the debate, the teacher should focus the students on the key issue, which is civil rights (Justice Jackson’s opinion) v. national security (Justice Black’s opinion). This lesson will demonstrate how Robert H. Jackson urged America to protect civil rights at all costs, even at the risk of national security.

Step 4: Common Core/Co-Curricular Writing Assignment

30 minutes - For Homework in English 11 or US History

Justice Robert H. Jackson, 1942
Credit: The Robert H. Jackson Center

Robert H. Jackson Common Core Essay

After completion of Steps 1-3, students will be well informed and have the ability to write an argumentative essay on the importance of Robert H. Jackson’s work in today’s war on terror. The prompt asks the students to argue Jackson’s point of view using the evidence they have examined throughout the lesson(s). They will also be required to incorporate and expand on the counter argument of Justice Black. This assignment is designed to help students understand the impact that Justice Jackson’s fight for civil rights transcends beyond Korematsu v. United States.