At the Heart of the Law: Remedies for Massive Wrongs

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Description: Because this is a short, reflective essay, and because I am most familiar with the United States's history of redress (or lack thereof) for large-scale injustices, I focus here on the approach we have taken within our legal system to racially based violations of U.S. and international law. 5 Much thoughtful scholarly analysis exists, of course, on the various aspects of redress or reparations for race-based wrongs in the United States, and I do not presume to address this broad, indeed overwhelming, subject in any comprehensive manner.6 For purposes of this essay, I assume that there have been fundamental injustices that constituted violations of law-constitutional, international, or both-at the time of their occurrence and that have continuing human consequences. Janice Mirikitani, paraphrasing her mother's 1981 congressional testimony on the Japanese American internment.9 Like many other victims of trauma, Japanese American internees for the most part maintained a staunch silence about their experiences,10 a silence that many broke only in the 1980s when the next generation of Japanese Americans, inspired by the Civil Rights movement, spearheaded a public education campaign,11 which resulted in the establishment of a Congressional Commission that held hearings around the country.12 This ultimately led to the passage of the 1988 Civil Liberties Act.13 The Act provided for an official apology, $20,000 in compensation to most of the surviving internees, and the establishment of a fund for public education concerning the internment.14 Unlike many of their generation, my father and uncle were willing to talk openly about their experiences, and my first understanding of large-scale wrongs came from their stories of being interned as teenagers.15 This glimpse into their lives, however, left me very skeptical of the movement for redress that was gaining momentum in the early 1980s.
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