Minoru Yasui, JD ‘39

Photo: Statue of a young Japanese-American girl awaiting forced relocation at the Eugene Japanese-American Art Memorial

Minoru Yasui endured unjust imprisonment, but he fought on, declaring: ‘This shall never happen again’

The School of Law honors Yasui’s enduring spirit to fight for justice and to remain ever vigilant in the name of liberty. We honor his legacy through our legal education, graduates, fellowships, and alumni awards.

Interested in making a gift to the Minoru Yasui Fellowship Fund?

Donate Now

His Story

Minoru "Min" Yasui earned his JD in 1939 from the University of Oregon School of Law. After law school he became the first Japanese-American attorney admitted to the Oregon State Bar. He was one of the few Japanese-Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor who fought laws that directly targeted Japanese-Americans or Japanese immigrants.

Yasui began practicing law in Portland, Oregon, in 1939. He found it hard to find work in Portland, but through the connections of his father, he started working for the Japanese government at its consulate in Chicago, Illinois. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, which drew the United States into World War II against Japan and Germany, Yasui resigned his position with the consulate on December 8, 1941.

Yasui returned to Hood River from Chicago after his father, Masuo Yasui, requested that he come home in order to report for military duty. After returning to Hood River, he tried to report for duty with the United States Army at the Vancouver Barracks in neighboring Washington, but was denied the opportunity to serve on nine occasions.

Minoru Yasui was arrested on December 13, 1941, for purposely violating the military curfew on Japanese-Americans. The FBI arrested him as an enemy alien and had his assets frozen. At his trial, federal judge James Alger Fee found Yasui guilty and, further, that Yasui (born in Hood River, Oregon) was not a U.S. citizen. Yasui was sentenced to one year in prison and given a $5000 fine.

Yasui waited nine months for his chance in court for appeal. During this time he was incarcerated in solitary confinement at the Multnomah County Jail in Portland, and later sent to the Minidoka War Relocation Center in Idaho.

His case, Yasui v. United States, was the first case to test the constitutionality of the curfews targeted at minority groups. The case made it all the way to the United States Supreme Court. 

After internment during most of World War II, he moved to Denver, Colorado in 1944. In Denver, Yasui married and became a local leader in civic affairs, including leadership positions in the Japanese American Citizens League. In 1986, his criminal conviction was overturned by the federal court. More than forty years later, Congress finally acknowledged the government’s mistake with the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.

Awards and Fellowships

Minoru Yasui's jail cell is now on permanent display at the Japanese American Museum of Oregon. Yasui later became a renowned civil rights attorney in Denver. In 2015, Yasui was post-humously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.


UO Alumni feature

Related Events

  • March 28: Minoru Yasui Day designated by the State of Oregon--the date in 1942 he deliberately broke the curfew that was placed on all people of Japanese ancestry.
  • Fall Celebration Awards and Reception – Minoru Yasui Justice Award Presented
  • October 19: Minoru Yasui Birthday