Friday, September 29, 2023
Eric L. Muller, the Dan K. Moore Distinguished Professor of Law in Jurisprudence and Ethics at the University of North Carolina School of Law, has a new book Lawyer, Jailer, Ally, Foe
It is 1942, and World War II is raging. In the months since Pearl Harbor, the US has plunged into the war overseas—and on the home front, it has locked up tens of thousands of innocent Japanese Americans in concentration camps, tearing them from their homes on the West Coast with the ostensible goal of neutralizing a supposed internal threat.
At each of these camps the government places a white lawyer with contradictory instructions: provide legal counsel to the prisoners, and keep the place running. Within that job description are a vast array of tasks, and an enormous amount of discretion they can use for good or for ill. They fight to protect the property the prisoners were forced to leave behind; they help the prisoners with their wills and taxes; and they interrogate them about their loyalties, sometimes driving them to tears. Most of these lawyers think of themselves as trying to do good in a bad system, and yet each ends up harming the prisoners more than helping them, complicit in a system that strips people of their freedoms and sometimes endangers their lives.
In Lawyer, Jailer, Ally, Foe, Eric L. Muller brings to vivid life the stories of three of these men, illuminating a shameful episode of American history through imaginative narrative deeply grounded in archival evidence. As we look through the lawyers’ sometimes-clear and sometimes-clouded eyes, what emerges is a powerful look at the day-by-day, brick-by-brick perpetration of racial injustice—not just by the system itself, but by the men struggling to do good within it.