26 Jul 2022


Case Analysis: Duncan vs. Kahanamoku

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Academic level: College

Paper type: Case Study

Words: 570

Pages: 2

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(General) Were the military tribunals established in Hawaii under martial law during the World War 2 constitutional? 

(Specific) Was the military court within the jurisdiction in trying and convicting Lloyd Duncan? 

(Sub-issue) How could the military courts determine the loyalty of Japanese- Americans in Hawaii 

(Sub-issue) Is Lloyd Duncan entitled to a writ of habeas corpus 


On the 25th of February, 1946, the Supreme Court issued a ruling on the case. The decision was made in favor of Duncan in an overwhelming majority of 6-2. In the majority opinion written by Justice Hugo Black; they asserted that the Organic Act of Hawaii did not provide for convening military tribunals under martial law, and Congress had not expressly authorized such actions. The court also denounced the imposition of military rule as an affront to liberty. 

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Lloyd Duncan, a civilian working for the army, was arrested on February 24, 1944, for assaulting two marine sentries of the Pearl Harbour naval base. He was presented to a military court and sentenced to six months in prison. He challenged the decision and the civilian attorney general, J.Garner Anthony agreed to represent him. In March 1944, Duncan presented a habeas corpus petition to Judge Delbert Metzger. General Robert Richardson and the naval commander Admiral Chester opposed the issuance of a writ insisting that Hawaii was still under imminent danger of a Japanese invasion and that the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus and martial law were still essential. This is because of a population of 124,000 U.S Citizens of Japanese ancestry in Hawaii of which 67,000 of them were dual citizens (Scheiber & Scheiber, 2016) . However, the judge in his ruling issued a writ setting the matter down for a full evidentiary hearing. 

The Duncan hearing re-opened again on April 5, 1944. Edward Ennis represented the army. Richardson and Nimitz in their testimony presented Hawaii as vulnerable to invasion, and therefore her safety was dependent on the military judgment. Ennis argued that the loyalties of Japanese Americans could not be relied upon; it would be naïve to assume that in a population of 160,000 there was no disloyal Japanese. Anthony in his defence of Duncan produced a magazine article published by General Richardson that stated that Japanese Americans had on many occasions proven their loyalty to the united states. On the 13th Of April 1944, Judge Metzger ruled for Duncan stating that habeas corpus had been restored with the resumption of civilian government in 1943 (Fairman, 2015) . He thereby declared that the military court had no authority in trying Duncan and also ordered the release of Harry E. white. 

The army general’s office undertook an appeal to the Duncan and white rulings. The court of appeals heard the appeals in early July 1944.They argued that the reestablishment of civilian courts would lead to Japanese Americans who could be potentially doubtful regarding loyalty being assigned Jury duties since they could not be legally excluded from service. On November 1944, the appellate courts reversed Metzger’s ruling and reinstated the sentences of Duncan and white. The court stated that martial law was necessary to control any potential disloyal Japanese Americans. Eventually, the Supreme Court decided to hear the cases in February 1945. 


In Conclusion, the U.S Supreme Court agreed to hear the cases which were consolidated under the caption Duncan VS, Kahanamoku. By this time, the world war was over, and a majority of the prisoners convicted by the military courts had been released. The court overturned the previous decision and ruled in favour of Duncan and white. Military tribunals and courts were undermining the citizen’s liberty, and their rulings were rendered unconstitutional. The issue of the loyalty of Japanese Americans did not warrant Military courts over civilian courts. 


Fairman, C. (2015). The Supreme Court on Military Jurisdiction: Martial Rule in Hawaii and the Yamashita Case.  Harvard Law Review 59 (6), 833-882. 

Scheiber, H. N., & Scheiber, J. L. (2016).  Bayonets in Paradise: Martial Law in Hawaii during World War II

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StudyBounty. (2023, September 15). Case Analysis: Duncan vs. Kahanamoku.


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