Asian Pacific Americans are Ready for the Supreme Court

Jin Y. Hwang, President, National Asian Pacific American Bar Association

Since the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on Feb. 13, politicians, pundits, and everyday Americans across the nation have been discussing the new Supreme Court vacancy and speculating about whom President Obama will nominate to be the next Justice. As a lawyer, I am pleased that this vital legal institution has taken center stage in public discourse. As an Asian Pacific American (APA), I am very pleased that the public is actively discussing a number of highly-qualified APAs as potential nominees. As the president of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA), I call on President Obama to give each of them the full consideration that they deserve. The time is ripe for an APA to serve on the Supreme Court.

APAs have certainly achieved important gains on the federal bench during the Obama Administration. At the beginning of the President’s first term, there were only eight active APA federal judges, and today there are 25, including four appellate court judges. Over the course of his seven years in the White House, we have seen 23 nominations of APAs, resulting in 21 confirmed to the federal bench. These nominations represent significant progress from an era when no more than two Article III judges were nominated or confirmed during any single year. And NAPABA is proud to have played an active role in this progress. Despite these achievements, there remains more to be done.

There has never been an APA Supreme Court Justice. Over the 227-year history of the Supreme Court, only three of the Court’s 112 Justices have been people of color. In 1967, Justice Thurgood Marshall became the first African American Justice. Justice Clarence Thomas became the second African American Justice in 1991. In 2009, Justice Sonia Sotomayor became the first Hispanic American to serve on the Court. We are still waiting for the day when an APA or a Native American jurist joins them.

This Supreme Court vacancy provides the President with a critical opportunity to continue to build his legacy of inclusion and achieve another first for our community. By nominating an APA for the Supreme Court, President Obama can take the first step toward ensuring that an APA serves on the highest court of our country.

As the president of an organization that represents more than 50,000 APA lawyers throughout the United States, I am proud that NAPABA has been involved in the nomination or confirmation of every APA judge nominated by President Obama. For over 20 years, NAPABA has worked tirelessly to increase the number of qualified APAs serving on the federal bench. Our members have mentored young lawyers with judicial aspirations. We have brought clarity and transparency to the judicial nominations process for our members seeking federal judgeships. We have helped to prepare nominees and have supported them throughout the entire appointment and confirmation process.

Significantly, NAPABA and its members have worked for many years to establish and nurture relationships critical to building a diverse and inclusive judiciary, including bipartisan relationships throughout the federal government–including with the White House, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the U.S. Senate. NAPABA also has established deep-rooted relationships with state governments and nongovernmental judicial selection committees to help build the pipeline of APA judges. Armed with information gained through years of meetings, discussion, and nominations — mostly successful but some not — NAPABA has provided strategic support for judicial aspirants in order to maximize their chances for nomination and a smooth confirmation process. NAPABA’s work has produced a deep bench ready to serve at all levels of the judicial system. It can no longer be said that there are no qualified APAs for a vacancy.

For the most part, NAPABA has done this work quietly and behind the scenes, rarely seeking acknowledgement or affirmation for its work. But I have come to realize that there is an important reason to share this background about NAPABA — we are a reflection of the broader APA community, and I want the President and the American public to know that we are ready to serve on the Supreme Court.

Today, among our ranks are four federal appellate court judges, 21 federal district court judges, eight state Supreme Court judges, six current or former state/federal solicitors general, current or former state attorneys general, law school deans, past Supreme Court law clerks, and other thought leaders in the legal community. They are ready and qualified to serve our country on the Supreme Court.

Judge Denny Chin is ready.

Judge Chin, who has been serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit since 2010 after having served on the federal district court for 16 years, would be an excellent consensus nominee. He was confirmed to the Second Circuit by a 98–0 vote, and was supported by prominent Republicans including Michael Mukasey (former U.S. attorney general under President George W. Bush), Rudy Giuliani (former mayor of New York City), and James Comey (current FBI director and former U.S. deputy attorney general under President George W. Bush). Judge Chin is perhaps best known as the judge who presided over the Bernie Madoff trial and sentenced Madoff to 150 years in prison.

Associate Justice Goodwin Liu is ready.

Justice Liu, who has served on the California Supreme Court since 2011 following a unanimous confirmation, is an intellectually thoughtful judge, whose well-reasoned opinions highlight his keen grasp of complex legal issues. A review of his opinions shows that the fears expressed by some of his opponents about his purported ideological extremism were unfounded. Justice Liu is a recognized expert on constitutional law and education policy, with wide experience in private practice, government, and academia. Prior to his confirmation to the California Supreme Court, he was a law school Associate Dean and Professor, and is a former law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

Judge Jacqueline Nguyen is ready.

Judge Nguyen of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is the first-ever APA woman federal appellate court judge in the history of the U.S. She fled the Vietnam War when she was nine years old to start a completely new life in the United States as a refugee. A former federal prosecutor and federal district court judge, Judge Nguyen is well respected on the bench, and would bring years of law enforcement experience to the Supreme Court.

Judge Sri Srinivasan is ready.

Judge Srinivasan is a former law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and currently serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Judge Srinivasan was confirmed by the Senate in 2013 by a unanimous 97–0 vote. Judge Srinivasan has a record of service in the U.S. Solicitor General’s Office for three Presidents spanning both parties, and he has earned praise from a bipartisan group of Solicitors General and judges. He has appeared before the Supreme Court over two dozen times, having served as principal deputy solicitor general of the U.S. and chair of the Supreme Court and Appellate Practice at O’Melveny & Myers.

These are just a few of the APA judges who are highly qualified and ready to serve as members of the United States Supreme Court. It is time to change the narrative about APAs and the Supreme Court.

We are ready. America is ready. President Obama, let’s make history.