Since the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, speculation about his replacement has been intense, as has been speculation about the prospects for confirmation by a Republican-controlled Senate. Given the many highly qualified and confirmable Asian Pacific American candidates, the President must seriously consider nominating an Asian Pacific American and the Senate must give such a nominee a full and fair hearing.
But why should an Asian Pacific American be on the Supreme Court?
We have many well-qualified candidates for the current vacancy. A few stand out.
Famously known for sending a strong warning to Wall Street when he sentenced Bernie Madoff to 150 years in prison, Judge Denny Chin on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has had a distinguished career on both the appellate and district courts. He would be an excellent consensus nominee, having been confirmed to the Second Circuit by a 98–0 vote, and supported by prominent Republicans including Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and James Comey, former Deputy Attorney General under President George W. Bush and current FBI Director. Born in Hong Kong and raised in Hell's Kitchen in New York City, Judge Chin would be only a year older than was Justice Ginsburg was when she was nominated, and he is younger than at least one person on the “so-called” short list.
In 2010, Goodwin Liu was characterized as “unfit” to be a judge on the Ninth Circuit because he allegedly was inexperienced and would impose an “extreme liberal agenda” from the bench. Now, Associate Justice Liu has served on the California Supreme Court for five years. His intellectually thoughtful and well-reasoned opinions show that fears expressed by some about a purported ideological extremism were unfounded. For example, during his Ninth Circuit confirmation, 42 district attorneys accused him of being a death penalty abolitionist. Yet, Justice Liu has consistently voted to uphold application of the death penalty, including authoring 10 majority opinions affirming death judgments. A former law school associate dean and professor, Justice Liu is a recognized expert on constitutional law and education policy, with wide experience in private practice, government, and academia.
Judge Jacqueline Nguyen fled the Vietnam War when she was nine years old to start a completely new life in the United States as a refugee. Thirty-eight years later, Judge Nguyen was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. She is the first-ever Asian Pacific American woman federal appellate court judge in U.S. history. 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. She was confirmed by overwhelming bipartisan margins twice in the last seven years—97-0 for the federal district court and 91-3 for the federal appellate court.
Born in India and raised on Jayhawk basketball in Kansas, Judge Sri Srinivasan was confirmed 97–0 to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Noted for his collegiality and consensus building, Judge Srinivasan’s grasp of complex legal issues and quick wit have been evident during his time on the court and were previously on display when he appeared before courts as a litigator. Judge Srinivasan served in the U.S. Solicitor General’s Office for three Presidents spanning both parties, and 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 and chair of the Supreme Court and Appellate Practice at O’Melveny & Myers.
Judges Chin, Liu, Nguyen, and Srinivasan all share an immigrant family background, and they attained the American dream that their parents had hoped for. Their life stories resonate strongly with all Americans: through hard work and dedication, anything is possible regardless of a person’s circumstances. This is America. It’s time for an Asian Pacific American to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States.
Hwang is president of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association.