The First Asian American Justice on the Supreme Court

“I plan to fulfill my constitutional responsibilities to nominate a successor,” said President Barack Obama in remarks on Feb. 13 on the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

The President, Vice President, Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders issued statements of condolence. Republican leaders quickly demanded that President Obama leave the seat vacant. Clinton said such demands would “dishonor our Constitution.”

“The Senate has a constitutional responsibility here that it cannot abdicate for partisan political reasons,” she said in a statement.

Despite these calls from Senate Republicans (and GOP presidential wannabes), President Obama is moving ahead crafting a list of potential nominees to be the next Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

It would be fantastic if the President’s list included names of Asian Americans. No Asian American has ever served on the highest court in the land. This could be President Obama’s opportunity to further diversify the judiciary and again make history.

Here are some potential Asian American nominees:

Sri Srinivasan, U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia — Dubbed a “Supreme Court justice in the making?” by a USA Today article, Srinivasan was confirmed 97–0 in the Senate, putting Republican Senators in a difficult position of explaining why they supported Srinivasan for the second-highest court if they oppose him for the Supreme Court.

Goodwin Liu, California Supreme Court Associate Justice — President Obama originally appointed Liu to the 9th Circuit, but encountered fierce stonewalling from Republicans. California Governor Jerry Brown later appointed Liu to the California high court.

Jacqueline Nguyen, U.S. Court of Appeals in the 9th Circuit — Nguyen was a former federal prosecutor and Superior Court judge appointed by President Obama in 2009 to the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, and then to the 9th Circuit in 2011. She was confirmed in the Senate by 91–3.

Kamala Harris, California Attorney General — It’s hard to say if Harris would drop her bid for the U.S. Senate to undergo the brutal confirmation process. She would not be the first nominee by any stretch who wasn’t a sitting jurist. Justice Elena Kagan never sat on the bench.

Harold Hongju Koh is a professor and former dean of Yale Law. President Obama appointed him as Legal Adviser of the U.S. Department of State, a position that requires Senate confirmation. Koh has worked in the SCOTUS building before, clerking for Justice Harry A. Blackmun. In 2011, Frank Chi wrote “Why Harold Koh Should Be the Next Supreme Court Justice” on HuffPost.

Denny Chin is currently serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The Senate confirmed him 98–0. As a District Court judge, one of Chin’s most prominent cases was that of Bernie Madoff, whom he sentenced to 150 years in prison. At the time Chin took a seat on the Court of Appeals, he was the sole Asian American to fill an active judgeship at that level.

In an opinion piece by Hayato Watanabe on TheHill.com one year ago: “We need an Asian-Pacific American on the Supreme Court,” Watanabe mentioned Washington Supreme Court Justice Mary Yu:

“Justice Yu in particular, represents the direction that progressives should be pushing the Court. The first openly-gay woman on the Washington High Court, Justice Yu is bi-racial (born to a Mexican mother and a Chinese father) and is distinguished for her work on racial justice issues.”

There are other qualified Asian American judges and scholars worthy of being nominated for the Supreme Court; this was not meant to be a comprehensive list.

But if President Obama wants to consider an Asian American for Associate Justice, it will not be hard to identify such a nominee.

Who did we miss? Share your thoughts!

This piece was written by Keith Kamisugi and does not necessarily represent an endorsement by the CAPA21 political action committee of any of individuals listed. CAPA21’s vision is of a country where AAPIs have a powerful presence and role in all branches and levels of government and politics, achieved through AAPI voters who are engaged, informed, and empowered. http://capa21.com