LCCR Letter to Rep. Hastert and Rep. Sensenbrenner

Media 02.13,03

Recipient: Reps. Dennis Hastert and James Sensenbrenner

February 13, 2003

The Honorable Dennis Hastert
Speaker of the House
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr.
Chairman, Committee on the Judiciary
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Speaker Hastert and Chairman Sensenbrenner:

On behalf of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the nation’s oldest, largest and most diverse civil rights coalition, we write to express our deep alarm over comments recently made by Rep. Howard Coble (R-NC) regarding the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. In light of those comments, we urge you to ask Rep. Coble to step down from his chairmanship of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security.

On Tuesday, February 4, during a radio interview, Rep. Coble defended the policy of interning Japanese Americans during the World War II period. He justified the imprisonment of 120,000 innocent people, many of them citizens, solely on the basis of their ethnic origin, claiming that it was necessary because “we were at war. They were an endangered species. For many of the Japanese Americans, it wasn’t safe for them to be on the street. Some probably were intent on doing harm to us, just as some of the Arab Americans are probably intent on doing harm to us.”

His comments were not only misinformed but deeply offensive not only to those who suffered under the program but to all who believe in civil rights. The creation of WWII internment camps had nothing whatsoever to do with protecting Japanese Americans; rather, it was a product of wartime hysteria and failed political leadership as well as outright bigotry. Congress and former President Ronald Reagan recognized and acknowledged this in 1988, in passing the Civil Liberties Act, which apologized to and compensated Japanese Americans for the devastation they suffered as a result of President Roosevelt’s wartime policy.

More importantly, however, Rep. Coble’s comments show that he clearly does not have an understanding of the relevance today of this tragic aspect of American history, which is particularly alarming given the fact that he implicitly impugns the Arab American community in the process. In light of the very real possibility that current efforts to protect homeland security could lead to calls for the even greater use of racial and ethnic profiling, the comments raise serious questions about the strength of his commitment to safeguarding the Constitution in his role as chairman of the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security. Indeed, this is one of the key congressional subcommittees charged with protecting our nation’s security, and we strongly believe that any person entrusted to serve as its chair must demonstrate the utmost respect for maintaining an appropriate balance between national security and civil rights.

We believe that America must find ways of protecting our national security without resorting to egregious violations of the Constitution’s most fundamental guarantees. Through his statements, it would appear that Rep. Coble does not necessarily hold the same belief, and in light of this, we urge that you ask him to step aside as chairman. Thank you for your consideration.


Dr. Dorothy I. Height

Wade Henderson
Executive Director