Lorraine Bannai

Name Lorraine Bannai
Born 1955
Birth Location Gardena, California
Generational Identifier


Attorney, law professor and member of Fred Korematsu's coram nobis team.

Born in Los Angeles and raised in the Japanese American community of Gardena, California, Lorraine Bannai (1955- ) received a B.A. in Environmental Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1976. She earned her a law degree from University of San Francisco School of Law in 1979.

Although she knew as a child that her parents and their families were in "camp" during World War II (the Manzanar concentration camp), it wasn't until Bannai took Asian American Studies courses in college that she understood the racism that contributed to the wartime incarceration, the harshness of life in camp, and the tremendous losses that the Japanese American community experienced.

Growing up in the 1960s, Bannai was aware of the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements, as well as the budding Asian American movement. But she became politicized as a law student during the struggle to preserve affirmative action in law school admissions. On studying the Supreme Court's decision in the Korematsu case, she was shocked to learn that the highest court in the country had validated the racial targeting of Japanese Americans.

After graduating from law school, she worked part-time as an attorney for the small Oakland law firm of Minami, Tomine, and Lew (now Minami Tamaki, LLP) and part-time at the University of California's Boalt Hall School of Law (now Berkeley Law) coordinating academic support for non-traditional students.

In the early 1980s, Bannai was active with Bay Area Attorneys for Redress, which submitted a brief to the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) on the constitutional issues raised by the mass incarceration. She testified before the Commission at its San Francisco hearings. Bannai's father, Paul, was the first executive director of CWRIC.

Just a few years out of law school, Bannai was a member of the coram nobis team representing Fred Korematsu . Her older sister Kathryn headed the Seattle-based team representing Gordon Hirabayashi .

As part of Korematsu's coram nobis legal team, she shared lead responsibility for managing, summarizing and organizing the massive number of documents. Early in the cases, she coordinated the work of all three coram nobis legal teams. Like all team members, she was also involved in legal research, public education, and fundraising for the cases.

After Korematsu's coram nobis victory, Bannai continued working at the law firm, eventually becoming a partner, handling general civil litigation, as well as cases dealing with civil rights issues, particularly those impacting Asian Americans. She also taught at various law schools in the San Francisco Bay Area.

In 1988, she left the law firm to focus on her work as a law professor. She joined the faculty of the Seattle University School of Law in 1996 and in 2011 became Director of the School's Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality, which engages in interdisciplinary research, advocacy and education on pressing social issues. She retired from the Seattle University School of Law in 2021.

Bannai has spoken and written extensively on the World War II incarceration. In 2012, she testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee arguing against the indefinite detention provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). She also co-authored an amicus brief on behalf of the children of Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayashi, and Minoru Yasui in Hedges v. Obama , a lawsuit challenging the NDAA.

She is the author of Enduring Conviction: Fred Korematsu and His Quest for Justice . She co-authored, with Eric Yamamoto and Margaret Chon, Race, Rights and National Security: Law and the Japanese American Incarceration .

Authored by Stan Yogi , Writer, Oakland, California

For More Information

Bannai, Lorraine, interview by Margaret Chon and Alice Ito. March 23 and 24, 2000. Densho Digital Repository.

Seattle University School of Law faculty webpage.

Last updated Dec. 8, 2023, 6:09 p.m..