More than six months after President Obama nominated him, Judge Denny Chin has finally been confirmed by a vote of 98–0 for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which covers New York, Connecticut, and Vermont. This makes Chin the only Asian American (out of 175 judges) actively serving on the federal appellate court.
What is very notable is that, according to the Asian American Justice Center, Chin is also the first Asian Pacific American (APA) federal appellate court judge to be nominated and confirmed outside of the Ninth Circuit, which comprises states on the West coast that have high Asian populations.
Chin has been involved in many high-profile cases. In 2009, Chin sentenced Bernard Maddoff to 150 years in prison for operating what some say was the largest Ponzi scheme in history.
So how did Chin become a high-powered judge?
Well, he certainly wasn’t born into wealth and prestige. Chin was born in Hong Kong and immigrated to the United States when he was 2. His father was a Chinese restaurant cook and his mother was a seamstress in New York City’s Chinatown. Chin worked hard and earned his bachelor’s degree from Princeton University before going on to blaze trails for Asian Americans. Chin is known for his intellect and command of the courtroom.
And he has certainly done us a favor by raising the profile of APA. A few weeks ago, we ran an editorial that lamented the fact that there is a lack of APA legal talent that seems ready for the U.S. Supreme Court.
However, with rising stars like Chin on the horizon, an APA on the Supreme Court is definitely within reach.
Chin is only 56 years old and seems to be in really good health — he has completed the New York City marathon four times.
You may wonder, so what? What is the big deal about getting an Asian American on the Supreme Court?
Ask yourself what Thurgood Marshall’s appointment meant for Blacks, what Sandra Day O’Connor’s appointment meant for women. These appointments inspired and opened doors for so many people and are now considered landmarks in American history. This is why it’s a cause for celebration whenever an APA breaks past a glass ceiling.
There is still a perception for many that Asians and Pacific Islanders are not true Americans. Many see us as permanent immigrants or foreigners. A solution to this is to integrate and be a more visible and vocal part of the American population. High-profile people like Chin help to build a positive image of APAs.
Another solution to building our presence in this country is to encourage and mentor our young people to be successful in all careers and parts of society. This starts with education. With a bad economy and rough budget cuts happening all around the nation, we need to be creative in providing opportunities for our kids.
Summer is coming up — sign them up for a summer camp or class, so they don’t just sit around all day. If money is an issue, consider volunteering. Many people don’t think of volunteering as an educational experience, but as any volunteer will tell you, so much is learned when you interact with different people or within new environments. If kids want to keep on top of their studies, they can tutor other kids in their communities, which is a win-win situation for everyone. ♦