Mitsuye Endo & Civil Liberties

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the Secretary of War and any military commander designated by him “to prescribe military areas…from which any or all persons may be excluded.”


Approximately 120,000 Japanese resident aliens and Japanese Americans were removed from the West Coast to concentration camps without due process.


One of the Japanese-American women was Mitsuye Endo (1920–2006), who was born in Sacramento, California.  She had two sisters and a brother who served in the U.S. Army. 

Prior the U.S. involvement in World War II, Endo worked for the Department of Motor Vehicles in California, but she and many other Japanese-American state employees were eventually fired due to discrimination against Japanese Americans.

Mitsuye Endo, at her job as a civil servant, Sacramento, CA. 1942.
Courtesy National Archives.

Attorney James Purcell planned to challenge the legality of Endo’s firing but because of Executive Order 9066 and the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans along the West Coast, he decided instead to challenge their incarceration. Purcell selected Endo as an “ideal” plaintiff who could symbolize the loyalty of Japanese Americans.


Seeking her release, Purcell filed a habeas corpus petition in July 1942 approximately five months after the signing of Executive Order 9066.


The petition was denied, and several other petitions were filed as well. Finally, in December 1944, the Supreme Court decision in Ex parte Endo ruled that the U.S. government could not continue to detain a citizen who was “concededly loyal” to the United States in concentration camps.


This ruling led to Japanese Americans being allowed to return to the West Coast and the eventual closing of the camps.


Mitsuye Endo is less well known than three others who protested the constitutionality of Executive Order 9066—Gordon Hirabayashi, Min Yasui, and Fred Korematsu, all of whom received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Mitsuye Endo leaving Topaz for the final time, 1945.  Courtesy of 2012 Utah State Historical Society. All Rights Reserved.


Prepare a 4–5-minute presentation that includes a summary of Mitsuye Endo’s accomplishments, specific types of civic engagement mentioned in the handout, and the impact of Ex parte Endo on democracy in the United States.


Also, share your thoughts on whether you think Mitsuye Endo and/or two other civically engaged Americans of your choosing should be included in all U.S. high school history textbooks. 


  • due process—fair treatment through the normal judicial system, especially as a citizen’s entitlement

  • habeas corpus—a writ requiring a person under arrest to be brought before a judge or into court, especially to secure the person’s release unless lawful grounds are shown for their detention

  • ex parte—refers to improper contact with a party or a judge. Ethical rules forbid (with some exceptions) a lawyer from contacting the judge or the opposing party without the other party’s lawyer also being present. A breach of these rules is referred to as improper ex parte contact.  

  • Presidential Medal of Freedom—the U.S.’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors


“Ex parte Endo,” Densho Encyclopedia, [24 June 2018]. 


William Yoshino, “Japanese American Internment Case Cited Today in Government Actions,” Sacramento Bee, 4 September 2016, [24 June 2018]. 

"Endo, Mitsuye", MSS C 125 The KUED Topaz (Utah) Residents Photograph Collection, 1987,

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