Eric Yamamoto Awarded Prestigious Fred T. Korematsu Professorship

Originally posted on the William S. Richardson School of Law website. Prof. Yamamoto is a co-founder of EJS and a former member of our board of directors. All of us at EJS congratulate him on this distinguished honor!

The William S. Richardson School of Law has named University of Hawai‘i Law Professor Eric K. Yamamoto – award-winning author, advocate, teacher, and legal scholar – to a newly-established professorship: The Fred T. Korematsu Professor of Law and Social Justice. This professorship honors the late Fred T. Korematsu, whose courage in the face of racially-biased World War II government policies of detaining and imprisoning Japanese Americans will inspire advanced studies in civil liberties at the UH Mānoa Law School and contribute to social justice initiatives in the United States and beyond.

The Fred T. Korematsu family has chosen only two educational institutions throughout the country to use the Korematsu name to continue the work of exposing social injustice and of fostering redress for historic injustice. The family determined that the only Fred T. Korematsu Professorship in the country should be housed at the William S. Richardson School of Law, to be held by a faculty member there.

The purpose of the Korematsu Professorship is to enable its holder to speak, write, and teach with special authority on matters of civil and human rights and social justice; to train promising law students as collaborators on academic and community-based social justice projects; to engage social justice scholars and practitioners locally, nationally, and internationally; and to extend his or her social justice work and influence into new realms of intellectual and practical significance. It is being launched through a generous leadership gift from Sidney and Minnie Kosasa, founders of the ABC Store chain in Hawai‘i.

Sidney Kosasa was a student attending UC Berkeley School of Pharmacy during WWII when he was interned at the Tule Lake relocation camp in California. In 1943, he married Ms. Minnie Ryugo at the camp. After their release, they eventually returned to Hawai‘i, formed a family company, and opened a drugstore, Kaimuki Pharmacy, later known as Thrifty Drugs. In 1964 Sidney and Minnie Kosasa opened the first ABC Store. Today, the chain of ABC Stores is one of the most successful business enterprises in Hawai‘i and the family has found many avenues to give back to the community.

The Kosasa gift to the Korematsu Professorship on the 70th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066 (the forced incarceration of Japanese Americans and resident aliens in the wake of the bombing of Pearl Harbor), honors the strength, courage, and resilience of those who prevailed over the injustices and indignities suffered by Americans of Japanese ancestry during WWII.

Richardson Law School Dean Avi Soifer said the new professorship not only vaults the Law School into a class of its own, but recognizes the huge strides for social justice made first by Fred Korematsu and then enhanced by Prof. Yamamoto:

“Eric Yamamoto truly is known around the world for his path-breaking work on restorative justice. His multifaceted approach to social justice and his collaborative work with students already serves as a model. Bestowing this particular professorship on Eric is so fitting that it merits celebration. We are eternally grateful for the generosity of the Kosasa family as well as the Fred T. Korematsu family for making this dream a reality.”

After the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Fred Korematsu was one of more than 120,000 innocent Japanese Americans arrested and relocated to concentration camps in the name of national security. Refusing relocation, Korematsu was jailed, but he challenged the “racial exclusion” decision all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1944.

He lost; but 40 years later, with the help of a team of young attorneys that included Eric Yamamoto, he again challenged the legality of his incarceration – and, by extension, the detention of all Japanese Americans. The success of that famous 1984 case of coram nobis (a rare remedy for setting aside an erroneous judgment in a civil or criminal action because of an error of fact) that argued against the validity of a U.S. Supreme Court decision based on fraudulent evidence and government misrepresentations about military necessity, exonerated Korematsu and set the stage for reparations payments and an official apology from the American government to those incarcerated solely because of their race during World War II

In successfully refuting the factual underpinnings of the Supreme Court’s decision, the Korematsu legal team pointed to new evidence uncovered in 1981 from WWII government files showing that the War and Justice Departments had known at the time of the internment that there was no military necessity to justify it and that the government had suppressed, fabricated and falsified key “evidence” of national security necessity presented to the high court.

Yamamoto holds his J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law and has been teaching at Richardson since 1985. He is a nationally and internationally-recognized authority on issues of social justice, redress, and reconciliation. He is the recipient of eight Outstanding Law Teaching Awards, including UH’s highest award, the Regents Medal for Teaching Excellence in 2005, and the Society of American Law Teachers’ nation-wide Outstanding Law Teacher award in 2006. In 2011, the nationwide Consortium of Asian Pacific American Law Professors honored Yamamoto by creating the annual Professor Eric K. Yamamoto Emerging Scholar Award in recognition of his devotion to the struggle for justice and his mentorship of promising legal scholars.

Yamamoto inspires law students and beginning lawyers through his rigorous Scholar Advocates program, designed both to generate and to translate cutting-edge justice theories for front-line practice. He also works extensively with new law teacher-scholars to encourage success throughout the arduous process of writing and publishing. Recently, Korematsu’s daughter, Karen Korematsu, made a trip to Hawai‘i to join Yamamoto in leading a seminar for Department of Education teachers to help incorporate the Fred Korematsu and internment story into the Hawai‘i public school curriculum.

Fred Korematsu had a special fondness for the Richardson Law School and he was a guest several times. His last visit was in 2004, just before he passed away. Yamamoto’s introduction at the time captures the striking significance of his legacy:

During World War II Fred stood up, nearly alone, to try to make our Constitution mean what it says – equality under law – even in the face of withering attacks. In the 1980s he stood again to rectify the injustice not just for Japanese Americans but for all of us to assure that the government will be called to account for its abuses of power.

Naming Yamamoto the Korematsu Professor of Law and Social Justice broadens and extends Korematsu’s remarkable legacy. Moving forward, the William S. Richardson School of Law will continue its effort to elevate the Korematsu Professorship to a fully-endowed Fred T. Korematsu Chair in Law and Social Justice so that future generations of scholar advocates may be inspired to continue the work for social justice.

To learn more about how you can support the William S. Richardson School of Law, please contact Carrie Fuller at (808) 956-5516 or You can also make a gift at

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