The Supreme Court, Asian Pacific Americans and the Judiciary

Asian Pacific Americans are dramatically underrepresented in the federal courts.  There has never been an Asian Pacific American on the Supreme Court, and the only active Asian Pacific American appellate judge in the country is Judge Denny Chin, who was confirmed in April 2010 to the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Currently there are only 13 active Asian Pacific American Article III judges serving in our federal courts out of approximately 875 total judgeships.  (Article III judges have lifetime appointments).

Given the lack of Asian Pacific Americans in the lower courts, it should come as no surprise that there has never been an Asian Pacific American Supreme Court Justice. Although Justice Elena Kagan never served as a judge, every other current Supreme Court Justice has been a federal appellate judge prior to nomination.  Because of the dearth of Asian Pacific American judges, Presidential Administrations have not had many options even if they were interested in choosing an Asian Pacific American candidate.

Waiting in the ranks are a fast growing collection of former Supreme Court clerks and high-profile Asian Pacific Americans such as Preeta Bansal, Ivan Fong, Neal Katyal, Goodwin Liu, Brian Matsui, and Sri Srinivasan, who are making their case for their nominations to our courts.  Asian Pacific American groups, like the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association and the Asian American Justice Center, have increasingly demonstrated their effectiveness in organizing and populating lower courts with young stars.  These efforts will pay dividends in years to come, when current lower court judges become candidates for future appellate court and Supreme Court nominations.

The future for our community in our federal courts is bright.  Asian Pacific Americans have recently made great advances in better representation in the judiciary.  President Obama has already nominated more Asian Pacific Americans for the judiciary than any prior President even in an eight-year term, and several Asian Pacific Americans have recently been appointed to state court positions. While there has been much progress in the past several years, much work remains to be done in order to achieve a truly diverse judiciary.


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