Sansei female. Born 1955 in Los Angeles, CA. Grew up in Gardena, CA, surrounded by a large Japanese American community. Influenced by father's role in community and politics, and mother's emphasis on education. Attended University of California, Santa Barbara where she became increasingly aware of Japanese American history, issues of ethnic identity and racial inequality. Attended the University of San Francisco School of Law where she honed her commitment to political and social activism.
Only a few years out of law school, she joined a team of lawyers working to reopen the Supreme Court's 1944 decision in Korematsu v. United States. Convicted of violating the exclusion order during World War II, Mr. Korematsu's case went all the way to the Supreme Court where the exclusion and incarceration of Japanese Americans was upheld as constitutional, based on the government's argument of 'military necessity.' Through a petition for writ of error coram nobis (establishing that the case was premised on errors of fact withheld from the judge and the defense by the prosecution), the legal team reopened the case, provided evidence that the factual underpinnings to the exclusion orders were fraudulent, and successfully had the Korematsu conviction vacated, as well as a handful of other similar convictions. In this interview, Ms. Bannai discusses the coram nobis legal team, the support for the effort among the Japanese American community, and personal lessons gained from being a part of this effort. (March 24, 2000)