The White House announced today that Judge Denny Chin, the accomplished judge who presided over the infamous U.S. vs. Madoff case earlier this year, has been nominated by President Obama to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Here’s Chin’s biography, as released by The White House:
Judge Denny Chin: Nominee for United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
Judge Denny Chin was born in Kowloon, Hong Kong. His family moved to the United States when he was 2 years old. Judge Chin was raised in New York City, attending Stuyvesant High School, a New York public school specializing in math and science, before attending Princeton University. He graduated from Princeton magna cum laude in 1975 and from Fordham Law School in 1978 where he was the managing editor of the Fordham Law Review.
After graduation, Judge Chin clerked on the Southern District of New York for Judge Henry F. Werker. He then spent two years at the law firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell before becoming an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York in 1982. When he left the U.S. Attorney’s office in 1986, Judge Chin started a law firm with two colleagues: Campbell, Patrick & Chin. Four years later, he joined the law firm of Vladeck, Waldman, Elias & Engelhard, P.C., where he specialized in labor and employment law.
In 1994, Judge Chin was nominated and confirmed to the U.S District Court for the Southern District of New York, where he currently serves. He was the first Asian-American appointed as a U.S. District Court Judge outside of the Ninth Circuit.
Judge Chin has served as an Adjunct Professor at Fordham University School of Law teaching legal research and writing since 1986. He is currently the Treasurer for the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association Judicial Council, and he has served as the President of the Federal Bar Council Inn of Court and the President of the Asian American Bar Association of New York. He also currently serves on the Boards of Directors for the Fordham Law School Alumni Association and the Fordham Law School Law Review Association and as the Co-Chair for the Fordham Law School Minority Mentorship Program. Judge Chin is a member of the Federal Bar Council Public Service Committee, the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Judge Chin is being nominated to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
Why is this a significant step?
The Asian American Bar Association (AABA) openly discusses the lack of representation of Asian Americans in the upper tiers of the judicial system. They write:
At the federal level, the number of Asian Pacific American judges is miniscule. In the Northern District of California, which includes San Francisco, Santa Clara, and Alameda counties among others, there has never been an Asian American district court judge pursuant to Article III of the U.S. Constitution. As to all Article III federal courts, the number of active Article III judges who are Asian Pacific American is:
• Zero in the Northern District of California
• Zero in the federal circuit courts of appeal
• Zero on the U.S. Supreme Court
In addition, former AABA president Celia Lee and Judge Ken Kawaichi wrote a compelling argument lamenting the embarrassing lack of diversity of judges in the federal courts system for the San Francisco Chronicle, with a specific focus on the state of California.
The absence of an Asian Pacific American jurist on the federal bench is a stark contrast to the Asian Pacific American jurists who sit on the state courts in Northern California, where there are 27 Superior Court judges, two commissioners, a justice on the Court of Appeal and two justices on the Supreme Court. Even with that number of Asian Pacific American jurists on the bench, state courts have not achieved parity with the Asian Pacific American population, which constitutes 33 percent of San Francisco’s population and about 20 percent of the Bay Area population. But at least there is progress. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently appointed five Asian Pacific American judges in Santa Clara, Alameda and San Francisco counties.
Lee and Kawaichi go on to state the case for why having equal representation among judges is critical; many of the country’s landmark civil rights cases throughout history were brought by Asian Americans against the state of California or the federal government. Here are those listed by Lee and Kawaichi in their article:
In Yick Wo vs. Hopkins, one of the earliest civil rights cases in American history, the Supreme Court in 1886 struck down a discriminatory San Francisco ordinance targeting Chinese Americans.
In Wong Kim Ark vs. the United States, a landmark immigration case in 1898, the Supreme Court applied the 14th Amendment to grant citizenship to an American of Chinese ancestry born in the United States.
In Korematsu vs. United States, one of the most infamous civil rights cases in American history, the Supreme Court upheld the forced exclusion and detention of 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II without the right to notice of charges, the right to attorneys or the right to a trial. Forty years later, in 1984, Judge Marilyn Hall Patel of the Northern District court overturned Korematsu’s conviction, ruling that there was no good justification for the internment.
In Lau vs. Nichols, a suit brought by Chinese American students living in San Francisco, the Supreme Court expanded the rights of all students throughout the country with limited English skills by requiring language accommodation.
Asian Americans are not merely impacted by decisions made in federal courts, we have been instrumental in changing the face of the United States for the better throughout this nation’s history. Yet, Asian Americans are yet to be adequately represented in the positions that actually make these critical rulings.
Earlier this year, President Obama took a major step towards rectifying this disturbing lack of representation of Asian Americans among federal jurists; in August, Obama nominated Judge Edward Chen to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, where he is now the first Asian American to serve as a federal judge overseeing a region encompassing some of the country’s largest Asian American populations.
If I read the AABA’s website correctly, if Judge Denny Chin were confirmed to the Second Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, he would be the only Asian American currently serving in the federal court of appeals system. In other words, even with Judge Chin sitting on the U.S. Court of Appeals, Asian Americans would still only represent 1% of judges in the federal circuit courts of appeal compared to representing more than 4% of the population.
Nonetheless, I applaud President Obama for this important step towards improving diversity in this nation’s courts. When Obama was campaigning for the presidency, he took a stance towards improving representation of underrepresented minorities in the judicial system, and it’s good to see that he has been true to his word when it comes to the Asian American community.
Act Now! The Asian American Bar Association has a number of recommended actions you can take if you want to let your elected representatives know you want more Asian Americans in the federal courts.
Send an email to Senators Feinstein and Boxer letting them know this is an important issue, letting them know that it is important for Asian Americans to be represented on the federal bench. For Senator Feinstein, click [here], and for Senator Boxer, click [here].
Become an AABA member and join our committees, including our Judiciary/Public Appointments Committee.
Support AABA, NAPABA, and other organizations seeking to diversify the judiciary.
Come to our Annual Dinner and other events to learn more.