At Shearman & Sherman LLP on Thursday night, Nov. 16, the Honorable Dorothy Chin Brandt spoke about her long and historic career to a crowd of friends, supporters, and members of the legal community inspired by her story. “Distinguished Alumni Perspectives with The Honorable Dorothy Chin Brandt” (co-sponsored by AABANY, AVALANCHE, Shearman & Sterling’s association focused on Asian heritage and Asia-interested lawyers, and Shearman alumni) gave voice to Justice Chin Brandt’s story, which began with her election to the New York State Supreme Court and culminated in her retirement in 2017 after a thirty-year career. Justice Chin Brandt took questions from the audience on her role and experiences as a judge and a leader of the Chinese American community in New York. From the mentors and allies she made as early as her time at Harvard Law School, to her first election, which she lost by less than 1% of the vote, Justice Chin Brandt spoke of her gratitude toward the supporters she found in public life and of the endurance and determination she had to muster to fight back against stereotypes and the ingrained exclusivity of politics.
As a fourth generation Chinese American, Justice Chin Brandt recalled with frankness why it is important to remember one’s Asian identity. “We’re Asian because the world perceives us with certain stereotypes, and that’s how they relate to us. That’s what we have to deal with. That’s how we’re perceived,” she said. Justice Chin Brandt traced her decision to run for judge back to a need to defend that identity. Years ago, a retired judge made a disturbing comment that reached Justice Chin Brandt when she was just a lawyer, and resonates with her to this day. He called Asians “liars who couldn’t be trusted.” This comment, and the fact that a judge had held such beliefs while deciding cases in New York’s courts, galvanized Justice Chin Brandt and inspired her to run for office.
After losing her first election by a narrow margin and opposing a highly controlled Democratic Party machine, Justice Chin Brandt became the first Asian American woman to serve as a judge in the state of New York, thanks to her own decision to make a difference for Asian Americans in the legal world, and to valuable allies, including Mayor David Dinkins and others who remain her supporters to this day.
Justice Chin Brandt saw her election in 1987 as a victory for Asian Americans, and her role as judge as a position to empower them while remaining fair and impartial to both sides of every case. During the talk on Thursday evening, Justice Chin Brandt shared the cases and lessons that impacted her the most. From serving as Assistant Dean at Harvard Law School, to her job as an associate at Shearman & Sterling, to, or course, her position as judge, Justice Chin Brandt’s career gave inspiring and practical wisdom to all in attendance.
Thanks to Shearman & Sterling for hosting and organizing the event and for inviting AABANY and its members, including many from the Prosecutors’ Committee, to be part of this wonderful evening.
(Thanks to intern August Gweon for the write-up and photos.)