By Guest Contributors: Sung Yeon Choimorrow (NAPAWF), Quyen Dinh (SEARAC), and Alvina Yeh (APALA)
Last month, the Senate voted to confirm D.C. Circuit Court nominee Neomi Rao, who will now be the first Indian American woman to sit on a federal appeals court.
Critics have repeatedly shed light on the dearth of people of color among Trump’s judicial nominees, especially when compared to those of President Obama. Trump has nominated not a single African American or Latino to federal appeals courts amongst a sea of white men. Despite this, two other conservative Asian American federal appeals court nominees in addition to Rao face imminent confirmations–and lifetime appointments–to the U.S. judiciary: Michael Park and Kenneth Lee, to the Second and Ninth Circuits, respectively, have also received hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Don’t be fooled: these appeals court nominees are a danger to civil rights and justice for the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community; they are pawns in Trump’s larger scheme to uphold white supremacy under the guise of promoting racial diversity in the top ranks of government.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the Trump administration show its friendly face toward Asian Americans in an effort to undermine equality and opportunity. Just last year, the Trump administration expressed its support for Asian American students suing Harvard University who claim that the school intentionally discriminated against students of Asian descent in favor of Black and Latinx applicants.
Unsurprisingly, Trump’s Asian American judicial nominees have been outspoken in their opposition to affirmative action policies, policies that AAPIs broadly support and that particularly help low-income AAPI groups like the Southeast Asian American refugee community, who face significant economic and cultural barriers to college access.
For example, Rao’s college writings as the editor-in-chief of a Yale University publication reveal her disdain toward affirmative action, opining, “Myths of racial and sexual oppression propagate themselves, create hysteria, and finally lead to the formation of some whining new group.” She has also referred to affirmative action as the “anointed dragon of liberal excess” and the existence of cultural centers at Yale as “special treatment for minority students.”
Efforts to rally Asian Americans against affirmative action are led by none other than Michael Park, nominee for the Second Circuit, who currently represents the plaintiffs suing Harvard University for racial discrimination. He has also challenged the constitutionality of necessary affirmative action programs in other similar lawsuits against the University of North Carolina and the University of Texas.
Rounding out the trifecta of anti-AAPI-yet-themselves-AAPI judicial appointees is Kenneth Lee, nominee for the Ninth Circuit nominee. Harshly critical of equal opportunity programs, which he referred to as a form of “soft-hearted liberal paternalism,” Lee has argued that affirmative action programs “admit unqualified students to challenging schools where they are likely to fail.”
To further illustrate their stance on racial justice: in their hearings, all three nominees could not definitively state whether or not they believed Brown v. Board of Education, a pivotal Supreme Court case in the civil rights movement, was correctly decided. Before Trump, the refusal of a judicial nominee to endorse Brown would have been unthinkable.
Beyond affirmative action, Trump’s nominees have advocated for numerous policies and positions on various issues that outright harm the AAPI community.
Rao has espoused extreme victim-blaming views when discussing sexual assault and has weakened protections for survivors, stating that a good way to avoid a potential date rape is to “stay reasonably sober.” Her views further stigmatize AAPI survivors, who already face cultural and societal barriers in reporting sexual assault and accessing services and resources. Meanwhile, Park has advocated for the addition of a citizenship question in the 2020 census, which would ultimately result in a lack of resources and funding allocated to immigrant and AAPI communities. He has also supported Trump’s efforts to cut funding for sanctuary cities, which would strip protections away from thousands of undocumented AAPIs. Furthermore, all three nominees support the Trump administration’s anti-worker, corporate greed agenda, backing policies that strip away protections for vulnerable nail salon workers, workers injured on the job, and employees who work overtime hours, among other anti-worker policies.
Though each nominee has touted their own personal, immigrant bootstrap story in an effort to demonstrate their empathy for immigrant communities, their records reveal the truth: these nominees have not supported policy or systems changes that would help immigrants.
The administration’s propping up of Asian Americans at the cost of other communities of color bolsters a larger narrative of white supremacists historically using Asian Americans as a wedge. In fact, white Americans’ simple use of the term “model minority”–the false notion that Asian Americans fare better than other racial minorities–not only obscures the inequalities faced by various ethnic subgroups of AAPIs but harmfully implies that other people of color should be able to catch up to their AAPI counterparts.
Nominees representing communities that have historically been shut out of systems of power cannot simply check the identity box and expect to gain the respect of those they represent. Neomi Rao, Michael Park, and Kenneth Lee, despite being Asian American, are dangerous for AAPI immigrants, workers, and women. It’s time our senators recognize this truth.
Sung Yeon Choimorrow is executive director of National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum.
Quyen Dinh is executive director of Southeast Asia Resource Action Center.
Alvina Yeh is executive director of Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO.
Learn more about Reappropriate’s guest writing program and submit your work here.