On The Front Burner

St. John’s Law Professor Discusses Jackson, Immigration Law

John Q. Barrett, Robert H. Jackson Center board member and St. John’s University professor of law, speaking about Jackson during the “How ‘Far Gone’ Are We Now? Immigration, Security & American Values, From Justice Jackson’s Time To Our Own” program on immigration law. Several speakers, including Barrett, spoke during the program held at the Jackson Center, 305 E. Fourth St., Friday. P-J photo by Dennis Phillips

Immigration was a prominent issue for Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson during his time on the highest court in the land.

On Friday, John Q. Barrett, Jackson Center board member and St. John’s University professor of law, spoke about a few of the immigration cases that came before Jackson while he was on the Supreme Court during the immigration law program “How ‘Far Gone’ Are We Now? Immigration, Security & American Values, From Justice Jackson’s Time To Our Own.”

“These topics are on the front burner,” Barrett said about how immigration law is still a prominent issue for today’s courts.

Barrett said Jackson considered himself part of the “melting pot” even though he was born in the United States. He said while Jackson was still living and working in Jamestown, he had several social relationships with people of all backgrounds.

“Jackson valued people,” Barrett said.

During Jackson’s time as attorney general, 1940-41, Barrett said cases dealing with immigration moved from the Labor Department to the Department of Justice. Barrett said Jackson didn’t like this change because it meant immigration was viewed as a law enforcement issue when it was handled by the Justice Department. He said Jackson was fundamentally stressed by this labeling.

Barrett talked about how Jackson changed the life of Alan Cole, who later became Jackson’s law clerk. While Cole was stationed in Nuremberg, Germany, following World War II, he would go to the Nuremberg Trials to watch Jackson. Cole, who was planning on becoming a journalist, changed his career path based on watching Jackson during the Nuremberg Trials. When Cole returned to the states, he went to school and became a lawyer.

“For Alan Cole, this changed his life plans,” Barrett said.

Barrett discussed three immigration cases that Jackson wrote dissenting opinions on for the Supreme Court. The three immigration cases Barrett discussed involved Ignatz Mezei, Ellen Knauff and Fred Korematsu.

The Mezei case was about an alien resident of the United States who traveled abroad and remained in Hungary for 19 months. On his return to the U.S., the attorney general ordered him permanently excluded without a hearing. The order was based on information of a confidential nature, the disclosure of which would be prejudicial to the public interest, and on a finding that the alien’s entry would be prejudicial to the public interest for security reasons. Because other nations refused to accept him, his exclusion at Ellis Island lasted for 21 months. A federal district court in habeas corpus proceedings then directed his conditional parole into the United States on bond.

Ellen Knauff was born in Germany and married Kurt Knauff, a U.S. citizen and veteran of World War II. Intent on becoming a U.S. citizen, Knauff booked a ship to America and arrived in New York Harbor in 1948. After questioning by an immigration official, she was taken to Ellis Island. There she was questioned over a period of weeks and months, without visitors or legal assistance.

In 1950, the Supreme Court decided 4-3 in favor of not letting Knauff into the U.S. Jackson was one of the dissenting votes. Returned to Ellis Island, Knauff was threatened several times with deportation. On one occasion, Knauff was driven to the airport to be sent back to German. In his capacity as circuit justice, Jackson learned of the decision and issued an emergency stay. Jackson’s order reached the airport about 20 minutes before her departure.

Korematsu versus the United States involved a United States citizen born on American soil of Japanese descent who was forced into an internment camp. Korematsu believed that this was an unconstitutional infringement on his civil liberty. The question that came before the Supreme Court was whether the executive and legislative branches went beyond their war powers by depriving citizens of rights with no criminal basis.

The Supreme Court decided that then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Congress did not stretch their war powers too far by choosing national security over an individual’s rights in a time of war. Jackson warned of the danger that this great allowance of executive power presented, through the War Department’s ability to deprive individual rights in favor of national security, in time of war:

Other speakers Friday included Lucas Guttentag, professor Stanford Law School; Rick Su, professor at Buffalo School of Law; Theodore M. Shaw, Julius L. Chambers Distinguished Professor of Law and director of the Center for Civil Rights; Joyce White Vance, professor at Alabama School of Law; and Margo Schlanger, Henry M. Butzel Professor of Law University of Michigan.

The program was made possible through the generosity of Jackson Center donors, the Alan Y. Cole Lectureship Endowment Fund and the Stanley A. Weeks Charitable Legacy Fund at Chautauqua Region Community Foundation, Clear View Pools & Spas, Libera and Lynn Development.