Seifert and Glockner cases


The habeas corpus cases of Edwin R. Seifert (AKA Erwin R. Seifert) and Walter Glockner marked an important constitutional challenge to the arbitrary detention of U.S. citizens by military authorities during World War II. Although the petitioners were both German-Americans, the status and rights of Japanese Americans under martial law in Hawai'i lay at the center of the conflict.

Even as the Japanese military launched its deadly raid on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, leading to the U.S. declaration of war on Japan, army commanders in Hawai'i declared martial law. The new military government they created suspended habeas corpus and proceeded to round up both aliens and U.S. citizens who were marked for detention as a result of alleged subversive activities or sentiments. The army's policy of arbitrary confinement was challenged in 1942 by Dr. Hans Zimmerman, but his case did not interfere with the institution of military tribunals and provost courts to try civilians.

The next challenge to the martial law regime came from two other naturalized citizens, Edwin Seifert and Walter Glockner. Erwin Reinhold Horst Seifert (Heifert, according to one source) arrived in Hawai'i with his parents in 1926. Walter Glockner, born in Germany circa 1900, became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1930. He migrated to Hawai'i in 1937, and worked as a brewmaster. Seifert and Glockner had been tainted by anonymous accusations that they were pro-German. Siefert was accused of being an anti-Semite, while Glockner was alleged to have given the Hitler salute to friends in 1938 and invited them onto a German boat. Both men were taken in to custody after Pearl Harbor. While no formal charges were laid against them, they were deemed dangerous and interned on O'ahu. In July 1943, four months after Hawaii Governor Ingram Stainback's proclamation restoring partial civilian rule to the territory, the two men applied for writs of habeas corpus. Federal judge Delbert E. Metzger (who had previously declined to grant Dr. Hans Zimmerman's habeas corpus petition on grounds that his court was under duress from military authorities) announced his interpretation that Stainback's proclamation implied the restoration of habeas corpus, granted the petition and ordered Lieutenant General Robert C. Richardson Jr., Hawaii's military governor, to appear before him and to produce the two prisoners. Richardson refused to receive the summons served on him (his military guard forcibly ejected the federal marshals sent by Metzger when they came to serve the papers) or to produce the prisoners. When U.S. Attorney Angus Taylor informed him of Richardson's refusal to obey his orders, Metzger cited the general for contempt and fined him $5,000. Richardson responded with General Orders No. 31. These sweeping decrees forbade any court in Hawai'i from receiving habeas corpus petitions. Richardson threatened Judge Metzger with a $5,000 fine and punishment of up to five years at hard labor if he did not abandon all court proceedings on habeas corpus petitions. Metzger refused to withdraw his ruling, and a standoff ensued.

The controversy soon attracted nationwide attention. Even conservative newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune that accepted the continuing necessity of martial law vehemently denounced Richardson's action as high-handed and tyrannical.

Richardson insisted publicly that martial law was vital to the territory's survival. If the army permitted any petitions on habeas corpus to be heard, military officials would have to justify all the actions they had taken in the war emergency in the name of public safety. Richardson's supporters justified his conduct by reference to Japanese Americans in Hawai'i. One newspaper, underlining the gravity of the order, pointed out that if it was upheld on appeal by the Ninth Circuit, some 1,400 internees, most of them ethnic Japanese arrested after Pearl Harbor, would be able to apply for writs of habeas corpus to free themselves from army custody.

As in the case of Zimmerman, government officials finally arrived at a compromise to resolve the issue. In October 1943, Seifert and Glockner were brought to the mainland and freed—thus mooting their cases and removing their challenge to martial law. General Richardson withdrew his orders against Judge Metzger, while the judge reduced Richardson's fine to $100 once the War Department declared that the general had acted under orders from his superiors. Finally, in January 1944 President Franklin D. Roosevelt offered Richardson an unconditional pardon, erasing the fine and halting all further appeals. Despite the dismissal of the writs against the two men, Justice Department representative Edward Ennis announced that habeas corpus remained suspended in Hawai'i. The system of military tribunals remained in effect until the legal challenge launched the following year by Lloyd Duncan.

Glockner remained in Stevens Point, Wisconsin until November 1945, when he returned to Hawai'i. He continued to reside in Hawai'i in the postwar years. Seifert's later history remains obscure.

Authored by Greg Robinson, Université du Québec À Montréal

For More Information

Garner, J. Anthony. Hawaii Under Military Rule. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1955.

Robinson, Greg. A Tragedy of Democracy: Japanese Confinement in North America. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.

Scheiber, Harry N., and Jane L. Scheiber. "Bayonets in Paradise: A Half-Century Retrospect on Martial Law in Hawaii, 1941–46." University of Hawai‘i Law Review 19 (1998): 477–648.