Tom C. Clark


Name Tom C. Clark
Born September 23 1899
Died June 13 1977
Birth Location Dallas

U.S. attorney general and U.S. Supreme Court justice who was an important advocate of mass removal of Japanese Americans during Spring 1942.

Born in Dallas, Texas, Tom Campbell Clark (1899–1977) was the son of a lawyer. After attending the University of Texas, where he earned his B.A. and law degrees in 1922, he worked in his father's law office and then the Dallas district attorney's office. In 1937, Clark joined the U.S. Justice Department. He worked first in the War Risk Litigation section and then in the Antitrust division. In 1940 Clark was named chief of West Coast offices for the Justice Department, a position that brought him into contact with California officials.

In December 1941, following the Pearl Harbor attack, Clark was appointed by Attorney General Francis Biddle as civilian coordinator of the Alien Enemy Control Program and was sent to the West Coast to coordinate with Western Defense Commander General John DeWitt and his staff on the creation of military zones and exclusion of enemy aliens. Biddle expected that Clark would follow him and other Justice Department officials in opposing military and popular demands for arbitrary treatment of Japanese Americans and would bring military officials to adopt a more reasonable attitude. To Biddle's surprise, Clark strongly supported DeWitt and the military in their demands for wholesale removal of American citizens of Japanese ancestry. To circumvent constitutional prohibitions on forced removal of civilians Clark proposed a program for limited "voluntary" migration of Nisei, which was reluctantly endorsed by Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy. However, when DeWitt refused to accept such a program, Clark assisted DeWitt in drawing up a (largely spurious) military justification for mass removal of the entire ethnic Japanese population.

Following the issuance of Executive Order 9066 by President Franklin Roosevelt on February 19, Clark was attaché to DeWitt's staff and appointed civilian chief of staff. He worked closely with military officials to implement removal and eventually confinement. At first Clark hoped to avert mass removal by encouraging "voluntary evacuation," which he believed would be faster and less costly. On March 7 Clark made a region-wide radio address. Insisting that the army neither intended nor desired to impose mass removal, he called on individuals to move out of the excluded zone. Meanwhile, in order to encourage such "voluntary action," Clark pledged that the personal and business properties of the migrants would be protected by the government. In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle on March 4, 1942, Clark declared that the government would protect the property of all people of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast and restore it to them after the war. When Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau showed a summary of Clark's remarks to President Franklin Roosevelt, FDR brusquely rejected the idea, stating that he was concerned about Japanese American people but not about their property and added, "He [Clark] is crazy. What is the matter with him?" Morgenthau sent word down the line that no property guarantee would be permitted.

Over the following years, Clark continued his work in the Justice Department, but had little contact with Japanese Americans, although he was forceful in recommending prosecution of the Shitara sisters, accused of helping German POWs escape.

In 1945, Clark was appointed U.S. attorney general by new President Harry Truman, an old political friend. As attorney general, Clark compiled a mixed record on Japanese American rights. On the one hand, he attempted to prosecute whites in West Coast states who terrorized returning Japanese Americans, he approved the Justice Department's amicus brief in the Supreme Court Takahashi case, and he began the settlement of evacuation claims cases. However, he also took a hard line in court against renunciants, and he made the initial decision to prosecute Iva Toguri d'Aquino as "Tokyo Rose," although he was out of office by the time of her trial.

In 1949, President Truman appointed Clark to the U.S. Supreme Court. He remained on the Court for 18 years, amassing a record as a moderate, with strong support for civil rights. Clark joined in the court's landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education opinion, as well as writing the majority opinion in the famous 1961 4th amendment case Mapp v. Ohio. In 1966, Clark publicly expressed his regret over his wartime actions in regard to Japanese Americans, and following his retirement he showed his support for Japanese Americans by producing brief sections for a pair of books on the wartime events.[1]

Authored by Greg Robinson, Université du Québec À Montréal

For More Information

Conrat, Richard, and Maisie Conrat. Executive Order 9066: The Internment of 110,000 Japanese Americans. San Francisco: California Historical Society, 1972. Los Angeles: UCLA Asian American Studies Center, 1992. [Clark wrote the epilogue to this companion book to an early exhibition of photographs.]

Chuman, Frank F. The Bamboo People: The Law and Japanese-Americans. Del Mar, Calif.: Publisher's Inc., 1976.

Daniels, Roger. Concentration Camps, U.S.A.: Japanese Americans and World War II. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971.

Gronlund, Mimi Clark. Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark: A Life of Service. Foreword by Ramsey Clark. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010. Website for the book: http://www.tomcclark.com/

Robinson, Greg. By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001.

Wohl, Alexander. Father, Son, and Constitution : How Justice Tom Clark and Attorney General Ramsey Clark Shaped American Democracy. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2013.

Footnotes

  1. See, for example, Tom Clark, "Preface," to Frank F. Chuman, The Bamboo People: The Law and Japanese-Americans (Del Mar, Calif.: Publisher's Inc., 1976).