In 1988, Congress approved the Civil Liberties Act, which recognized that Japanese American citizens and resident aliens had suffered a "grave injustice" during World War II. It also established a fund to provide reparations to previously interned Japanese Americans or their heirs totaling $1.6 billion. The act provided for up to $10 million in annual payments from the federal government to individual victims or their families.
The Civil Liberties Act was one of several measures designed to improve relations between Japan and the United States. It came about as part of a larger effort by Congress to resolve issues arising from the treatment of Japanese Americans during the war. At the time it was passed, nearly one-third of all Japanese Americans were still living under military guard or detention. Many remained confined to camps beyond the end of the war; some were even forced into exile.
The Civil Liberties Act provided for two types of compensation: monetary damages for emotional pain and suffering, and special priority review for certain categories of claimants. An independent commission was created to administer the fund and issue awards.
Individuals who were already receiving an award from another federal program could not also receive funds under the Civil Liberties Act. However, if they qualified, they could submit a claim. The commission was required to consider each application on its own merits.
The internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II was one of the most egregious breaches of civil liberties in American history. According to the 1940 census, there were 127,000 persons of Japanese ancestry in the United States, with the majority living on the West Coast. President Roosevelt signed an executive order on February 19, 1942, authorizing the military to remove all people of Japanese origin from the mainland United States and place them in concentration camps. The move was justified by claims that they were dangerous enemies of the state who could be used as spies for Japan.
How did this happen? In November 1941, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt issued a presidential memorandum ordering the evacuation of Americans of Japanese ancestry from the western states. He based this order on reports from federal agencies including the Justice Department and the State Department that individuals with Japanese ancestry were threatening to boycott businesses that employed them, were refusing to rent apartments to them, and were taking other actions that threatened to undermine America's war effort.
The president ordered that these people be moved to more secure locations outside of western states where they would be out of danger of being harmed by enemy agents. However, many citizens of Japanese ancestry refused to leave their homes, arguing that to do so would be illegal under the Constitution's prohibition against racial discrimination. In addition, some families had been living in their homes for several generations and felt that they had become part of the community.
During WWI, the greatest assault on civil rights in the United States was the passing and implementation of the Espionage and Sedition Acts. These legislation effectively made it unlawful to criticize government officials and/or the war effort. They also provided for severe penalties including death for those found guilty of treason against the United States.
The First World War brought about many changes, not all of them good, for American civil liberties. One of these was the passage and enforcement of the Espionage Act and the Sedition Act by President Woodrow Wilson's administration. The purpose of these laws was to curb criticism of government policies or activities that were seen as essential to the war effort. They allowed for imprisonment without trial and imposed heavy fines for words spoken against the government.
Another change enforced by the war was the introduction of military rule into America's cities. Cities across the country decided to draft men into the army, so they could protect themselves from violence caused by radical groups that were opposed to the war. This led to the establishment of police forces with broad powers over civilians. They could search people, houses, and vehicles without a warrant and hold individuals without charges for up to 120 hours.
Finally, the war created the first mass surveillance program in America. The Navy began recording the names of individuals who sent messages through the mail, with the aim of stopping rumors spreading about the war effort.
The General Amnesty Act, a rebuilding measure, was approved by Congress on May 22, 1872. Except for specific types of persons mentioned in the legislation, this provision repealed all political impediments imposed by Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment. It also provided that any person who believed that he or she had been excluded from voting because of race or color could apply for a certificate of right to vote.
How did the Republicans react to the General Amnesty Act? They called it "Presidentialism Defined as Entitlements." They argued that since there were no restrictions on who could become president, then the office became a prize that could be awarded to anyone regardless of race. They claimed that since blacks were denied rights granted to white citizens, then denying them the right to vote violated the spirit if not the letter of the Constitution.
Why did the Democrats oppose the General Amnesty Act? They saw it as an attempt by the Republican Party to grant amnesty to former Confederates. They believed that since the Civil War had ended more than seven years earlier, there was no need for further action.
What did the General Amnesty Act do? It abolished all forms of discrimination against black Americans in voting, holding public office, and serving on juries. If a black citizen was denied any of these rights, he or she could file a claim with the attorney general.