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A question of fairness: National Consortium on Racial and Ethnic Fairness in the Courts to meet

The federal trial of 63 Japanese Americans who declined to comply with the draft during World War II as long as they were held in confinement camps will be reenacted in Cody Thursday night. Two of the men who were charged will be in the cast. The federal trial of 63 Japanese Americans who declined to comply with the draft during World War II as long as they were held in confinement camps will be reenacted in Cody Thursday night. Two of the men who were charged will be in the cast. Courtesy photo

The Heart Mountain Interpretive Center will welcome 200 judges, lawyers and scholars from around the country as they convene for the 26th Annual Conference of the National Consortium on Racial and Ethnic Fairness in the Courts.

The conference opens Wednesday night with a reception at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody. Events continue at the Holiday Inn in Cody, Cody High School and the interpretive center through Friday. For a complete schedule of events, go to www.heartmountain.org/national_consortium_28_3441868209.pdf

This is the first time the conference will take place in the Rocky Mountain West. Judge Edward C. Clifton, moderator of the National Consortium and Justice for the Superior Court of Rhode Island, said he welcomes the new location.

“We are so happy to be venturing out to the Rocky Mountain West for the first time,” Clifton said. “We believe our collaboration with the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation will give participants new insight into the mistreatment of Japanese Americans during World War II.”

The Heart Mountain Interpretive Center was built on the original site where 14,000 people of Japanese ancestry were incarcerated during World War II. This compelling local history will provide a backdrop for discussions on racial and ethnic fairness both then and now.

Keynote speakers for the event are former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson and retired U.S. Secretary of Transportation and Commerce Norman Y. Mineta, who met when Mineta’s family was held at the relocation camp, located between Simpson’s native Cody and Powell.

Judge Lance Ito, son of two Heart Mountain internees and the judge who presided over the O.J. Simpson double-murder trial in 1995, will also give a keynote address.

Professor Eric Muller, a Heart Mountain board member and respected legal scholar on the incarceration of Japanese Americans, will give tours of the Interpretive Center and seminars on legal dilemmas associated with the mass confinement of Japanese Americans.

A reenactment of the 1944 trial of the Heart Mountain draft resisters will feature two Heart Mountain draft resisters. Afterwards, they will participate in a discussion moderated by Muller. (See related story.)

“Criminal prosecutions of Japanese Americans imprisoned at Heart Mountain led to the largest mass trial in Wyoming history, a trial that was marred by error and injustice,” said Muller, of the Heart Mountain draft resister trial. “We are excited to use this trial as an example for Consortium participants of the ways in which racial and ethnic minority groups must sometimes struggle for fairness in our court system.”

The program will feature locally relevant topics, like the relationship between tribal and state courts, as well as topics that resonate nationally, like the rights of juveniles, lower-income communities, and documented immigrants.

“What happened at Heart Mountain was tragic,” said HMWF Chair Shirley Ann Higuchi. “But we are thrilled that the National Consortium wants to learn about what happened here. We seek to educate the public about Heart Mountain so that this mass miscarriage of justice never happens again. We are thrilled that the National Consortium wants to be a part of that.”

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