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The overreach of executive power by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Executive Order 9066 demonstrates how executive orders are an abuse of power by the President of the United States and that they are deliberately designed to toe the line of what is constitutionally allowed. They have been deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court but they are not checked as thoroughly as laws that must pass through Congress. They can be used to decide how laws will be enforced, deal with emergencies, explain minor details or policy, or set an agenda for the executive branch – but they must be based on Article II of the Constitution as well as existing laws or court cases (Eaton). However, only two executive orders have ever been overturned due to a lawsuit and the delicate balance of controlling this right of the president and protecting the people from the possibility of a dictatorship. This executive order in particular has been defended for being passed in a wartime, but the rights of American citizens should not be less important in times of conflict and Executive Order 9066 has continued to live on in history as exactly what it was – a misuse of executive power and a dangerous step for FDR towards the role of a total dictatorship.
This Order was created during a time of war for this country, but this was not – and has never been – a new experience for the United States. This country was founded from a violent revolution and has been involved in a multitude of wars from the eighteenth century until today. The United States showed a history of racism prior even to the start of the second World War as they made pacts with the Empire of Japan such as the “Gentleman’s Agreement” to prohibit Japanese immigration, eventually banning it out right through the Immigration Act of 1924. The United States thought nothing of these actions until Japan invaded China in July of 1937 and suddenly Asia was thrown into the chaos of World War II (Eaton). As Japan began to invade islands in the Pacific Ocean, Americans began to worry about how this country that they had blocked from their borders might react now that they had the upper hand in the conflict. Many have praised Roosevelt for Executive Order 9066 as they believed that it was crucial in this time of war, as Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor just over two months before it was signed. However, when Roosevelt agreed to “authorize and direct the Secretary of War… to prescribe military areas” (Executive Order 9066), he forgot that the Supreme Court had never given him the power to make laws, and certainly not ones that would override the Bill of Rights.
This Executive Order demonstrates the ways that Presidents are able to spin their decisions as head of state to be seen as in the interest of the public, and likewise shows that this power is too much to give to just one person. Roosevelt had no reason to believe that his nation was in any danger as the Munson Report had been created by the State Department only four months before Executive Order 9066 was signed into law and stated, “There is no Japanese ‘problem’ on the Coast. There will be no armed uprising of Japanese” (Munson Report). The authors of the report went on to say that while they did believe that there might be attempts at attacks by Japanese citizens in the United States, that the country was under no real threat because they wouldn’t be able to get close enough to anything vital anyway. If Japan was going to finance an attack, it would be through “imported agents” and not hard-working American citizens (Munson Report). The United States had more to fear from Communists – and the government wouldn’t get around to dealing with them until the fifties.
Clearly it couldn’t have been that much of a crisis if all suspected terrorists weren’t being rounded up as well, which seems to directly contradict Justice Black’s majority opinion on the case Korematsu v. United States (1944). He believed that the rights denied to Japanese-Americans forced into internment camps were allowed and deemed the Executive Order constitutional because in the dangerous time that the United States was facing upon entering World War II, there must be sacrifices in order to provide for national security (Black). He, however, has deeply misunderstood the Order and its implications. He stated that this was not an issue of “racial prejudice” and it can be assumed that had it been, he would have felt differently about the ruling on this case. However, as an article from The Crisis proved, this was a racial issue. Roosevelt was using his unique position of power to marginalize and discriminate against a group of people based on their nationality. Yes, the United States was fighting a war with Japan – but also with Germany and Italy and no American citizens with those national origins were being rounded up and being moved into internment camps on the East Coast (Howard).
The United States was at war, and this put the country into a tough position. Roosevelt had just gotten his citizens out of the Great Depression and now there was another issue threatening the still fragile country. He was desperate and afraid. He signed Executive Order 9066, a decision which has overwhelmingly fallen on the wrong side of history. He denied more than a hundred thousand people their natural rights to a fair trial, and unlawfully detained them for three whole years without an arrest warrant issued of any kind. It was wrong, constitutionally and morally. He can be forgiven, however, because he was only one man doing what he thought was best in the heat of a national crisis. The Supreme Court has ruled that presidents may issue an Executive Order to deal with emergencies but perhaps this is exactly the time when they should not be taking that power away from the democratically elected Congress of the United States. The President is only one man, and they should not be given the power of dictators. Executive Orders should be deemed unconstitutional as an overreach of executive powers and Order 9066 has long since been seen as one of the worst among them.
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