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The recent unexpected death of United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was almost immediately followed by speculation about his replacement. Equal attention has been given to the question of whether the Republican-controlled Senate will permit a confirmation vote. While media-based candidacies abound, two Californians — both esteemed Asian Pacific American judges — should be given strong consideration. Each possesses impeccable judicial credentials, combined with outstanding personal experiences, which would have an immediate and positive impact on the Supreme Court. Nominating either of them would be historic.
Justice Goodwin Liu has been an associate justice of the California Supreme Court since 2011. In sharp contrast to the bruising confirmation battle for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, during which time he was vilified by Senate Republicans as being a left-wing ideologue, Liu was confirmed unanimously to the California Supreme Court in 2011.
Liu’s performance on the California Supreme Court has proven his fear mongers wrong. His opinions are clear, precise, intellectually thoughtful and very well-reasoned. Far from being an ideologue, he has been restrained. Despite being labeled as death penalty abolitionist, Liu has consistently voted to uphold application of the death penalty, including authoring 10 majority opinions affirming death judgments. He is a former law school associate dean and professor and a recognized expert on constitutional law and education policy. He has wide experience in private practice, government and academia. The son of Taiwanese immigrants, Liu was born in Augusta, Ga., and grew up in Sacramento as a product of the public school system.
Judge Jacqueline Nguyen fled the Vietnam War when she was nine years old to start a new life in the U.S. as a refugee, spending her initial time in America in a tent city in Camp Pendleton. Despite what others would see as the hardship of the challenges of starting over with nothing, Nguyen and her family persevered through hard work and a consciousness of the opportunity that is America.
In 2012, Nguyen was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the first Asian Pacific American woman to serve as a federal appellate court judge in U.S. history. Prior to the federal bench, she was a California state court judge with a zero reversal rate. A former federal prosecutor and federal district court judge, Nguyen is highly respected on the bench. She was confirmed by overwhelming bipartisan Senate margins twice in the last seven years.
Both Justice Liu and Judge Nguyen are living embodiments of the American Dream, the personification of what hard work and determination can do. Their personal stories are All-American ones, and ones that will and should bring fresh perspectives to an institution that many view as elitist and disconnected from mainstream America. Despite their heavy workloads and outstanding judicial work product, both Liu and Nguyen have remained committed to involvement in the community, keenly conscious of the roles they play, both in the legal system, and in inspiring others to reach for the stars. They have never forgotten where they came from and how they got to where they are today.
The fact that Liu and Nguyen are Asian Pacific American only adds to the overwhelming reasons why they would be ideal choices for the Supreme Court. Asian Pacific Americans are the fastest growing population in the country, with a voting electorate expected to double in the next 25 years. In California, the numbers are higher.
Yet in its 227-year history and its 112 justices, only three Supreme Court justices have been people of color, and there has never been an Asian Pacific American. There have only been four justices from California. There has never been a better time to appoint an Asian Pacific American Californian to the Supreme Court. Such an appointment would be historic and is overdue.
America is ready. Let’s do this.
Wen Yun Chang, a Los Angeles attorney, is co-chair of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association’s Judiciary Committee.
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