Magistrate Judge Ed Chen testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee recently. Judge Chen was recently nominated by Pres. Obama to a federal district bench in the Northern District of California, which includes the Bay Area. Amazingly enough, the Bay Area has never had an Asian American federal judge, despite its historically large APA population. As you can see in the YouTube clip, Judge Chen is likely to become the first, judging from the largely softball questions from both Republicans and Democrats on the Committee.
Not only would Judge Chen add an APA presence to the federal bench, but before he was appointed as a federal magistrate judge in 2001, he was a staff attorney with the ACLU for 16 years. Judge Chen also was part of the famous legal team led by Dale Minami that got Fred Korematsu's original conviction overturned (Korematsu was the central figure in the infamous Supreme Court case Korematsu v. US that upheld the internment of Japanese Americans based on race - an opinion which has never actually been overturned). Many court observers have noted that the federal bench is comprised largely of lawyers with big firm or corporate backgrounds or former prosecutors. Few public interest or criminal defense attorneys get appointed to the bench, which results in a major dearth of judges with experience with middle or lower income litigants and the legal issues they commonly encounter. Now most judges work very hard and are largely successful in moving beyond their own personal biases or perspectives, but even those who try hardest to be objective will tell you that it makes a world of difference in evaluating evidence, witnesses, and facts if you lack any background knowledge or familiarity with a certain part of the world, or if your experience as a lawyer was always on the same side of the same types of cases.
As Asian Americans, we can celebrate Judge Chen's groundbreaking nomination in a critical area of our democracy. As progressives, we can also celebrate the much-needed addition of a judge who knows and understands how legal problems can affect the lives of ordinary Americans, not just big corporations.