Mitsuye Endo, seated at typewriter
Original caption: "Mitsuye Endo, Supreme Court figure, seated at her desk in the administrative office at the Central Utah Relocation Center."
"[Mitsuye] Endo did not test the curfew and exclusion orders that preceeded internment, nor did she risk the criminal penalties provided in Public Law 503. Her challenge to internment began after she reported to the Tanforan assembly center and was based on the civil procedure of a habeas corpus petition. Despite a lengthy delay in the lower courts, the petition brought on behalf of Mitsuye Endo eventually forced the Supreme Court to confront the internment issue directly.
Endo's case actually began several months before she reported to Tanforan, and well before the decision to intern Japanese Americans had been made... [Civil servants in Sacramento] had suddenly been ordered by the State Personnel Board to complete lengthy questionnaires that probed their past and present activities in detail. Despite the fact that all the affected workers were American-born citizens, the questionnaire seemed to be predicated on the assumption that they were citizens of Japan under that country's 'dual nationality' law. The forms asked for details about past visits to Japan, knowledge of the Japanese language, and membership in organizations with ties to Japan. A firm statement by California Attorney General Earl Warren that dismissals on the basis of race would be illegal had failed to deter the personnel board. News reports of a resolution of the California state senate calling for the firing of the state's Nisei employees added to their concern....
On April 2, with the evacuation underway, the personnel board notified these employees of their immediate suspension and that charges would soon be filed against them...Cast in the form of an idictment, the board's statement alleged 'failure of good behavior, fraud in securing employment, incompetency, inefficiency, and acts incompatible with and inimical to the public service' as grounds for dismissal.
All of the charged Nisei employees were native-born American citizens, a requirement of California law. Each was nonetheless first charged with being 'a citizen of the Empire of Japan, and a subject of the Emperor of Japan.' Each 'defendent' in the dismissal proceedings was additionally charged with the ability to 'read and write the Japanese language,' having attended 'a Japanese school conducted by officials of the Buddhist Church,' and with being 'a member and officer of certain Japanese organizations' which were 'violently opposed to the Democratic form of Government of the United States and to its principles.' The necessary exposure of the public to state employees of Japanese descent, claimed the personnel board, had 'created discord, hostility, unfriendliness, opposition, antagonism, disharmony [and] truculency...'
[The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) had hoped to challenge the dismissals of Sacramento civil servants facing these charges, but the speed with which DeWitt's exclusion orders were carried out soon shifted the issue to the removal of Americans of Japanese ancestry to assembly centers throughout the West Coast. James Purcell, a San Francisco lawyer who agreed to take the original assignment, now needed to find an interned state employee willing to challenge the detention at Tanforan.]
Purcell now hoped to find an interned state employee on whose behalf he could file a habeas corpus petition in federal court. The ground for such a petition would be that unlawful detention by the Army had deprived a state employee of the right to report for work....He finally picked out Mitsuye Endo as a 'perfect type' of plaintiff for a habeas corpus petition. A twenty-two-year-old clerical worker in the California Department of Motor Vehicles in Sacramento, Endo had been raised as a Methodist, did not speak or read Japanese, and had never visited Japan. Best of all, she had a brother serving in the Army. Purcell had not previously met with Mitsuye Endo and secured permission to file suit on her behalf by correspondence. On July 12, 1942, Purcell filed a habeas corpus petition with the federal district court in San Francisco under the caption of Endo v. Eisenhower, asking the court to require Milton Eisenhower, as director of the War Relocation Authority and as the person responsible for her detention, to show cause why Mitsuye Endo should not be released from internment....
Purcell met his client only once during the entire course of her case, during an interrogation conducted by WRA solicitor Philip Glick, who offered to release her from internment in return for an agreement that she would not return to the 'restricted area' of the West Coast, which included all of California. Despite this offer to escape from internment, made as part of the government's effort to avoid a Supreme Court test of its powers to detain Japanese Americans, Endo refused to abandon her legal challenge and remained behind barbed wire for another two years.
Aside from this brief meeting with the lawyers on both sides of her case, Endo remained an anonymous litgant. She never appeared in court during the judicial proceedings and disappeared from public view after the Supreme Court ruled on her case."
Justice at War: The Story of the Japanese American Internment Cases
Courtesy of National Archives