Robert T. Matsui

United States Representative (1941-2005)

From left to right: Patsy Mink, Norman Y. Mineta, and Robert Matsui. Gift of Norman Y. Mineta.
From left to right: Patsy Mink, Norman Y. Mineta, and Robert Matsui.
Gift of Norman Y. Mineta.

Elected to Congress in 1978, Robert Matsui was the Democratic representative from Sacramento (California’s 5th Congressional District) for 26 years. Evacuated to the Tule Lake internment camp as a child, he later became a successful lawyer, politician and staunch support of the Japanese American community.

Robert Matsui received a B.A. degree from the University of California-Berkeley (1963). After graduating from the Hastings College of Law (1966), he was admitted to the California bar in 1967 and established a practice in Sacramento. In 1969, he served as President of the Japanese American Citizens League before moving into local politics as a Sacramento City Councilman (1971 to 1977). He became vice mayor in 1977.

A senior member of Congress, Matsui was reelected by large margins until his untimely death in 2005. An expert on international trade and tax issues, he was a member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. As a ranking member on the Social Security Subcommittee, he opposed any privatization of the Social Security system. In 1988, he was a key sponsor of the Civil Liberties Act providing redress to Japanese Americans forced into evacuation camps during World War II. After his death from pneumonia and complications of a rare bone cancer, his wife Doris won the special election in 2005 to fill his Congressional seat.

November 20, 2005

Memorial for Matsui, including remembrances from numerous political leaders.
"He was the first of our generation to achieve election to Congress. He grew up in an environment in which Japanese American self-esteem was deeply affected by the imprisonment of our community during World War II. I remember him once describing how he and a friend once talked about how they wished they weren’t Japanese. That discussion resonated with me. How many of my generation at one time or another confronted the psychological burden of the wrongful incarceration, or the ongoing burden of feeling the need to prove one’s Americanism?"
Transcript of a November 4, 2001, interview of Rep. Matsui by John Shattuck, CEO of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.
"This afternoon we will explore one of the challenges and dangers in responding to terrorism, perhaps the most serious challenge in many ways, and that is the challenge of protecting security without destroying our own precious liberty. The challenge of maintaining our principles of equality and justice for all in times when often they are under severe stress."
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