Yoshimi Hayashi


Name Yoshimi Hayashi
Born November 2 1922
Died April 23 2006
Birth Location Honolulu, Hawai'i
Generational Identifier

Nisei

Yoshimi Hayashi (1922-2006) was a Military Intelligence Service (MIS) veteran who was the first person to serve as a judge at all four levels of the Hawai'i state court system, including the Hawai'i State Supreme Court from 1982 to 1993.

Early Life

Yoshimi "Hash" Hayashi was born in Honolulu in 1922, the son of Shigeo and Yushi Hayashi. His mother died when he was only 4, and he was raised by grandparents and aunts while his father, a carpenter, traveled around the Territory seeking work. He later enjoyed telling stories of growing up in the Manoa Valley, and of childhood mischief such as stealing neighbors' chickens and throwing guava fruits at passing cars.

After graduating McKinley High School, he enrolled at the University of Hawai'i. In 1942, after being barred from enlisting in the army, he joined the Varsity Victory Volunteers (VVV), an all-Japanese American volunteer labor unit. When military service was opened to Nisei, he joined the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team and was assigned to the MIS. After training at Camp Savage, he served with the MIS in the Philippines and was assigned to work in the Occupation of Japan. After his discharge in 1946, he traveled to Hilo, Hawaii, where he was caught in the deadly tsunami of that year—according to family legend Hayashi survived by clinging to a coconut tree. In fall 1946, Hayashi returned to University of Hawai'i to complete his education. He was awarded a bachelor's degree in sociology in 1950. Following graduation, he served for four years as a veterans' counselor for the Territorial Council on Veterans Affairs. In 1953 he married Eleanor Nozoe. The couple had one child, Scott K. Hayashi. Yoshimi Hayashi then went on to George Washington University law school, graduating in 1958. (Franklin Odo later noted that Hayashi's VVV mates, who loved to share stories of his wayward youth, expressed a certain surprise that he was able to make it through law school![1]).

Legal Career

After returning to Hawai'i in 1958, Hayashi clerked briefly for a territorial Supreme Court justice. In fall 1958 he ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for the Territorial House of Representatives from the 15th district (Manoa-Waikiki). After the election, he opened a law office on the island of Kaua'i, taking over from fellow 442nd veteran Jack Mizuha. In the following two years, as Hawai'i attained statehood, he practiced law, worked in Democratic Party affairs, served as an attorney for the new state House of Representatives, and as deputy corporation counsel in the Honolulu city attorney's office. In 1961, Hayashi was selected by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy as assistant U.S. attorney for the Hawai'i district, serving under U.S. Attorney Herman Lum. In 1967, after Lum was raised to the bench, President Lyndon Johnson appointed Hayashi as the first Japanese American U.S. attorney. Hawai'i Governor John Burns lauded the move, stating publicly that Hayashi's career proved that that there were no limits to the progress of Hawai'i's people, and adding that Hayashi should serve as a positive example. Hayashi served in the position until early 1969, when he offered his resignation to newly elected Republican President Richard Nixon. He then opened a private law practice with James M. Morita, James H. Kono and Hiroshi Sakai.

In 1970 Hayashi was raised to the state bench, replacing his partner James Kono as a part-time judge at the Wahiawa district court. Two years later he abandoned his private practice entirely and became a full-time district court judge. Among his responsibilities was presiding over small claims court. In 1974 he was elevated to the First Circuit Court of Honolulu. Despite his status as a judge, Hayashi became known for his unassuming personality. He also was well-regarded as mentor for attorneys and judges, including scolding counsel in his chambers or from the bench about maintaining respect and decorum in court. While on the court he served as judge in the Kukui Plaza case, a case dealing with alleged corruption in the administration of Honolulu mayor Frank Fasi. He attracted public criticism when he dismissed murder and attempted rape charges against a Waimanalo teenager on constitutional grounds. However, a year later, Hayashi sentenced a different defendant convicted of rape to the maximum penalty, stating that he imposed such a sentence because he was concerned with the "frequency that the crime of rape is committed." In 1980, after the Hawai'i Intermediate Court of Appeals was created, Hayashi was named for a ten-year term as the first chief judge by Governor George Ariyoshi (Hayashi's first cousin by marriage). His appointment was unanimously confirmed by the state senate. During his tenure as chief judge, Hayashi received praise for reducing the court's judicial backlog by efficient work.

On the State Supreme Court

In fall 1982, Governor George Ariyoshi appointed Hayashi as an associate justice to the Hawai'i Supreme Court, selecting Hayashi from a list of six candidates. Ariyoshi praised Hayashi as a man of "unquestioned integrity" and "high standards." In its report favoring the nomination, the state Senate Judiciary committee likewise praised Hayashi as combining "a superior legal mind" with "common sense" and for being "level-headed, unflappable, dependable and capable."

While on the court, Hayashi authored some important opinions. In 1985, he ruled that police could not search through household garbage cans in private property without a warrant. In 1988, he wrote a majority opinion striking down laws against pornographic material for home use. For most of his ten-year term, however, his decisions did not attract large-scale attention. Ironically, it was after the end of his term that he participated in his last and most controversial case as a judge. In fall 1992, Hayashi's tenure on the court was extended temporarily because of vacancies on the court. It was during this time that the court heard arguments in Baehr v. Lewin [later Baehr v. Miikei], a challenge to marriage laws by same-sex couples. Fellow judge Steven H. Levinson later recalled that during a court conference on the case, appellate court judge Walter Heen (also sitting temporarily on the high court) expressed opposition to equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, whereupon Hayashi added, "I'm a traditionalist. I'm with him."[2] In May 1993, the high court ruled that same-sex couples had an equal right to marry, unless the state could provide a compelling reason why it should ban such unions, and sent the case back to the lower courts for reconsideration. While Hawai'i voters later enacted a constitutional amendment that forestalled recognition of same-sex unions in the state for a generation, the decision was the first step in the process of legalization of marriage equality in the United States. By the time the decision was announced, Yoshimi Hayashi's term as substitute justice had ended, and he had retired. However, he took the step of officially recording his agreement with Walter Heen's dissenting opinion, which rejected the idea that LBGT couples had any fundamental "civil right" to marry and asserted that the marriage laws in question had a rational basis in the encouragement of procreation through heterosexual relationships.

After his retirement, Hayashi served as a trustee of the the Mamoru and Aiko Takitani Foundation. He died in Hawaii in 2006.

Authored by Greg Robinson, Université du Québec À Montréal

For More Information

Odo, Franklin. No Sword to Bury: Japanese Americans in Hawai'i during World War II. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2003.

Footnotes

  1. Franklin Odo, No Sword to Bury: Japanese Americans in Hawaii During World War II (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2004), 52.
  2. Ken Kobayashi, "1993 Ruling Paved Way for Shifting Views on Marriage Equality, Former Justice Says," Honolulu Star-Advertiser, April 30, 2013.