The intriguing part involved the exploration of the American Japanese internment court cases from World War II. The government, having interned 120,000 Japanese Americans (most of them American citizens) faced legal challenges to the internments during the war.
Caswell Harrison, known to the Philadelphia elite as Cash, has just finished law school after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. Failing his physical after being drafted leaves him unsettled and anxious to find a way to contribute to the war effort.
Offered a clerkship at the United States Supreme Court by Justice Hugo Black he is persuaded to take up the position of clerk as a means of serving his country. Among the major issues coming before the Court are the Japanese cases.
Roosevelt brings alive the great Supreme Court Justices of that era such as Black, Felix Frankfurter, Robert Jackson and William Douglas.
Cash observes them as judges and in their personal lives, how they react to pending cases and what sways them in reaching decisions.
Black loves playing tennis and has a full size tennis court in his backyard.
Cash’s year at the Court passes swiftly and he unexpectedly learns how the clerks sometimes influence decisions.
Later in the book he joins the Department of Justice and is tasked with supporting the internment by defending the actions of the Government. A further round of Japanese cases are reaching the Supreme Court.
Great questions are addressed in the book. What should happen to constitutional rights during war time? If rights are not upheld in time of crisis what are the consequences for the Rule of Law? These questions continue to be weighed by the Court today as the United States proceeds through its second decade of the war against terrorism.
An interned Japanese American Harry Nakamura discusses constitutional rights with Cash:
“The idea of these rights makes life perhaps more difficult,” Harry says softly. “To tell us we are enemies and lock us up, that we can understand. To tell us we are still Americans, to arrest us for refusing the draft, to make our children salute the flag and pledge allegiance to their jailers – it is perhaps this that people cannot bear. Renouncing citizenship could seem a relief.”
As Cash works upon the cases as a lawyer for the Department of Justice he must weigh his personal beliefs against the positions of the Department. What are his personal and professional responsibilities if there is conflict?
As the cases are argued at the Supreme Court late in World War II the nation wonders if the Justices will rule against FDR’s decision to approve the internment. Have the Justices become more independent after a decade of acquiescence to the President’s decisions and policies?
There was drama enough for me in the facts of the internment, the rights of a nation’s citizens during war, the stories of the interned Japanese and a young lawyer’s efforts to balance duty and conscience.
Roosevelt, an American constitutional law professor, brilliantly shows how constitutional law is often dramatic with powerful personal stories.
As the Western World of 2016 assesses the dangers of a violent minority within a minority Roosevelt’s book explores what happens when fear dominates the decisions of a nation.
In my next post I will discuss my struggles with the other plot line.
Allegiance is the first book I have read from the three books on the shortlist for the 2016 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction.
Roosevelt, Kermit – (2007) - In the Shadow of the Law; Hardcover