Robert S. Chang, founder and executive director of the Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality.
Robert S. Chang is the founder and executive director of the Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality. Matt Hagen

Irvine, Calif., Nov. 28, 2023 — The renowned Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality and its executive director Robert S. Chang, professor of law, will be joining the University of California, Irvine School of Law, starting July 1, 2024.

Chang founded the center – named for pioneering civil rights hero Fred T. Korematsu – in 2009 at the Seattle University School of Law with the mission to use legal research, litigation advocacy and clinical education to achieve durable social change related to racial equity and social justice. The center’s slate of projects and initiatives challenge discrimination, help communities advocate for themselves and provide law students with real-world experiences to help them become agents for social change.

“My responsibility as Fred Korematsu’s daughter is to protect, preserve and promote my father’s legacy,” said Dr. Karen Korematsu, founder and president of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute. “Therefore, it is essential to ensure an academic law center that bears my father’s name is housed at an institution that will fully honor and advance his civil rights legacy. I am excited and encouraged that UCI Law, with its commitment to public service and racial justice, will be the new home for the Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality.” 

“I am thrilled to be joining UCI Law and finding an institutional home that has so many of the components – engaged faculty, students and alumni committed to racial justice and a highly acclaimed clinical program – that will allow the already-established Korematsu Center to flourish and build at UCI Law what we are calling Korematsu Center 2.0.,” said Chang, the center’s founder and executive director. “At this point, all I can say is ‘stay tuned.’ I am looking forward to announcing what we will be doing and building at UCI Law.” 

“We are immensely privileged to welcome the Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality and Professor Chang to UCI Law,” said Austen Parrish, UCI Law’s dean and Chancellor’s Professor of law. “The Korematsu Center has already established itself as one of the premier race justice centers in the country. Its dedication to advancing justice through research, advocacy and education aligns perfectly with UCI Law’s founding principles. We look forward to supporting the Korematsu Center as it continues honoring the legacy of Fred Korematsu through its important work under Professor Chang’s visionary leadership.” 

Fred T. Korematsu and his legacy 

During World War II, Fred T. Korematsu was a 22-year-old welder in Oakland, Calif., who defied military orders to leave his home and report to an “assembly center” on the way to an incarceration camp. His refusal to obey the exclusion order led to his arrest and conviction in 1942.

Korematsu took his challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court, which, in 1944, upheld his conviction on the ground that the removal and internment of Japanese Americans was justified by “military necessity.” That decision has been widely condemned as one of the darkest chapters in American legal history. The government’s exclusion orders ultimately led to the incarceration of more than 125,000 Japanese Americans, including Korematsu and his family members. 

Forty years later, Korematsu filed suit to reopen his case on proof that the government, when arguing Korematsu’s case during World War II, had suppressed, altered and destroyed material evidence that contradicted the government’s claim of military necessity. In 1983, Judge Marilyn Hall Patel of the Federal District Court for the Northern District of California granted his petition and vacated his conviction. 

Korematsu went on to champion the cause of civil liberties, not only seeking redress for Japanese Americans who were wrongfully interned, but also traveling the country to advocate for the civil rights of other victims of excessive government action, especially after the events of 9/11. In awarding Korematsu the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998, President Bill Clinton remarked, “In the long history of our country’s constant search for justice, some names of ordinary citizens stand for millions of souls – Plessy, Brown, Parks. To that distinguished list today we add the name of Fred Korematsu.” 

In 2010, the state of California designated January 30 as the Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution, marking the first statewide day in U.S. history named after an Asian American. Several states – including Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Michigan, New Jersey and Virginia – and New York City have also established an annual day of recognition in honor of Korematsu’s fight to uphold the U.S. Constitution. In addition, Korematsu was the first Asian American featured in “The Struggle for Justice,” a permanent exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. In 2021, The Roosevelt Institute posthumously awarded the Freedom Medal to Korematsu, who directly challenged President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s policy and Executive Order 9066 all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

More about the Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality 

In keeping with the spirit of its namesake, the Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality seeks to create a more just and humane society through its numerous initiatives and projects focused on research, advocacy and clinical education.  

The Korematsu Center offers ample opportunities for law students and the legal community to work directly with the center. Its signature Civil Rights Clinic will be re-launched in Fall 2025 as a new race and justice clinic. It will allow students to work on critical civil rights issues pending before state and federal courts, as well as in other advocacy settings.

In past years, the Korematsu Center has engaged in merits-impact litigation on behalf of high school students in Tucson who challenged Arizona’s ethnic studies ban, on behalf of Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County and individual plaintiffs challenging the City of Seattle’s use of force against those protesting police violence against Black people, and on behalf of persons challenging Washington state’s juvenile sentencing practices. Its amicus litigation has included challenging the Muslim travel ban, rescission of DACA and the application of the death penalty in Washington state. From its inception, the Korematsu Center’s advocacy has focused on local, regional and national issues. It will do the same at UCI Law.  

More about Robert S. Chang 

Chang’s scholarly interests focus on race and interethnic relations. He joins UCI Law from Seattle University School of Law, where he was a professor of law and founded and directed the Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality. He previously served as associate dean for research and faculty development. Prior to that, he was a professor of law and J. Rex Dibble Fellow at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.  

Chang is the author of “Disoriented: Asian Americans, Law and the Nation-State (NYU Press 1999) and co-editor of “Minority Relations: Intergroup Conflict and Cooperation (University Press of Mississippi 2017). He has also authored more than 60 articles, essays and chapters published in leading law reviews and books on critical race theory, LatCrit theory and Asian American legal studies. He is currently working on two books: one on the political and legal struggle over Mexican American Studies in Arizona (with Nolan Cabrera), and the other, “The United States Supreme Court and White Social Dominance” (with Carlton Waterhouse, Michalyn Steele and Tanya Hernandez) is under contract with Cambridge University Press. 

Chang has received numerous recognitions for his scholarship and service. Most recently, in 2022, he was the recipient of Seattle University’s McGoldrick Fellowship, the most prestigious honor Seattle University confers upon its faculty. Previously, he was the 2009 co-recipient of the Clyde Ferguson Award, given by the Minority Groups Section of the Association of American Law Schools, which is “granted to an outstanding law teacher who in the course of his or her career has achieved excellence in the areas of public service, teaching and scholarship.”

He became an elected member of the American Law Institute in 2012, and he was the co-recipient of the 2014 Charles A. Goldmark Distinguished Service Award from the Legal Foundation of Washington for his leadership role in a statewide task force on race and the criminal justice system. The Society of American Law Teachers recognized him in 2018 with the M. Shanara Gilbert Human Rights Award for his work as co-counsel in taking successfully to trial a constitutional challenge to the enactment and enforcement of a facially neutral law that was used to terminate the Mexican American Studies Program at the Tucson Unified School District. 

Chang received an A.B. from Princeton University and holds M.A. and J.D. degrees from Duke University. 

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