Historical Society of the New York Courts and the Asian American Judges Association of New York Sponsor a Panel about AAPIs in the Judiciary, May 20

On May 20, the Historical Society of the New York Courts, the Asian American Judges Association of New York, and Meyer Suozzi English & Klein P.C. co-sponsored a panel discussion on the role of Asian Americans in the federal and state judiciary. The panelists of the event were Hon. Pamela K. Chen, U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of New York and AABANY member; Hon. Toko Serita, New York State Acting Supreme Court Justice, Presiding Judge of the Queens Human Trafficking Intervention Court, and AABANY member; and Hon. Anil C. Singh, Associate Justice of the Appellate Division, First Department. Hon. Lillian Wan, New York State Acting Supreme Court Justice and AABANY member, moderated the panel.

New York State Court of Appeals Chief Judge Janet DiFiore opened the event with a few remarks, thanking the panelists and acknowledging their trailblazing careers as Asian-Americans. Chief Judge DiFiore also emphasized the importance of remembering AAPI history and the United States’ legacy of racial exclusion against Asians. She then turned the program over to Judge Randall T. Eng. Judge Eng, Of Counsel at Meyer Suozzi and former Presiding Justice of the Appellate Division, Second Department, welcomed the attendees and shared his experiences as the first Asian American appointed to the bench in New York.

Judge Wan then introduced the panelists for the event, opening the discussion with a brief presentation on AAPI history from Hong Yen Chang and the Chinese Exclusion Act to the present day. After the presentation, each of the panelists introduced themselves and shared their backgrounds and paths to becoming judges. Judge Wan began the panel discussion, asking the panelists about their experiences as Asian Americans at the times of their confirmations. Many of the panelists recounted how there were very few, if not any, Asian American judges when they were appointed. Judge Chen recalled how her appointment was facilitated by Obama’s attempts to diversify the federal bench, while Judge Serita recounted her experiences as the first Japanese American appointed to her court.

Judge Wan moved on to the reasons behind the underrepresentation of AAPIs in the state and federal judiciary. All of the panelists cited lack of political engagement, the lack of a pipeline, and the general tendency of Asian lawyers to seek employment at corporate law firms. Judge Chen also brought up cultural barriers, touching on how Asians tend not to promote themselves and do not seek help even when needed.

Judge Wan shifted the topic to Asian stereotypes and its effects on day-to-day legal practice. The judges all expressed how Asians are frequently lumped together, being viewed as a monolithic group. Judge Serita pointed out that the term “Asian” itself perpetuates invisibility, as it smothers the diverse experiences that individuals of different Asian cultures experience. Judge Chen also mentioned how women of color tend to face more microaggressions than men of color.

Judge Wan then asked the panelists if they had experienced any incidents of anti-Asian assault during the COVID pandemic. Judge Serita shared that during the height of the pandemic, she would wear a hat and sunglasses on the subway in order to hide her Asian identity. She also mentioned how women make up 70% of bias incident victims due to being stereotyped as meek and docile. Judge Serita also emphasized the importance of continuing the conversations about Asians and race in light of the rise in anti-Asian incidents. Judge Chen also shared a story, where an Asian female jury member had to be excused from jury duty because she feared being assaulted on the subway commute to the courthouse.

Judge Wan then directed the conversation towards the role of diversity in the judiciary. All the judges emphasized the importance of having a judiciary that reflects the diversity of the people it serves. Judge Chen also cited Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissenting opinion in the Schuette v. Coalition case, pointing out how race does matter in the judiciary due to the long history of minorities being excluded in the United States.

Judge Wan then asked the panelists their thoughts on building a pipeline for Asians to enter the judiciary. All the judges expressed how important it was to reach out to the community to inspire young people to consider a public service career. Judge Chen identified a number of internships and programs for students aspiring to become judges while also noting how increasing Asian political representation in federal and state positions would afford aspiring AAPI lawyers the support needed to get through the confirmation process. Judge Chen also mentioned the role of bar associations like AABANY and the South Asian Bar Association of New York in sponsoring candidates for the bench. Judge Serita finished by encouraging young lawyers to be more proactive and to overcome Asian cultural humility.

Judge Wan moved to the topic of judicial screening panels, asking the judges their thoughts on the role of diversity on the panels. All the judges agreed on the vital role of diversity on screening panels. Judge Serita recounted one instance where an Asian woman being reviewed by the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys was given a low qualification score, due, in part, to the fact that only one out of the 30 committee members was Asian.

To close the panel, Judge Wan asked the judges if they had any advice to give to young attorneys aspiring to the bench. Judge Chen and Judge Serita both encouraged the attendees to enjoy their work, be passionate about it, but also, to not plan their careers rigidly around becoming a judge. All the judges also expressed the importance of flexibility and of keeping options open.

At the end of the event, Judge Eng shared photographs and a newspaper clipping documenting his long and distinguished career in the judiciary. Judge Wan then thanked the panelists for their time and the attendees for coming to the event.

To watch the full event, click here.

AAPI Judges from the Eastern District of New York Celebrate AAPI Heritage Month

On May 25, the Asian American Judges of the Eastern District of New York celebrated Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month with a presentation titled “Photographic Justice: The Retelling of Asian American History in the United States.” Through the photography of Corky Lee, the presentation chronicled Asian Americans’ involvement in U.S. history, which has mostly been omitted from American history books.

The presentation began with a retelling of the Golden Spike ceremony in 1869 that celebrated the completion of the transcontinental railroad. While the majority of the railroad construction workforce was comprised of Chinese immigrants, the photograph taken to commemorate the railroad completion did not include any of the Chinese workers. At the 100-year anniversary of the ceremony in 1969, speakers still ignored the contribution of the Chinese workers. Corky Lee, a renowned photographer, believed in photographic justice and in 2014, he gathered the descendants of the Chinese workers to reenact the Golden Spike ceremony photograph. He said, “Some people would say we are reclaiming Chinese American history. In actuality, we’re reclaiming American history and the Chinese contribution is part and parcel of that.”

The presentation continued by recognizing the contributions of Asian Americans to the American war effort during World War 2, many of whom fought on battlefields overseas. These individuals include the decorated 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the Philippine Scouts, and WASP aviators Maggie Gee and Hazel Ying Lee. The third part of the presentation focused on the numerous laws passed in U.S. history that prohibited Asians from immigrating to America such as the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and the 1907 Gentlemen’s Agreement. For years, immigration and access to citizenship was based on race. That situation remained unchanged until 1965 when the Immigration and Nationality Act finally abolished national origin, race, and ancestry as basis for immigration to the U.S. This resulted in increased immigration from China, India, Japan, and the Philippines.

The final segments of the presentation focused on the Asian American Movement and how Asian Americans have come together to address racism and inequality. Addressing the anti-Asian hate and violence occurring today, the presentation concluded that “the current climate of violence against Asian Americans must not stand in the way of Asian Americans being seen, being heard, and being respected in America.”

Thank you to Magistrate Judge Sanket J. Bulsara, District Judge Pam Chen, Magistrate Judge James Cho, District Judge Diane Gujarati, Magistrate Judge Peggy Kuo, and District Judge Kiyo A. Matsumoto for the important presentation on Asian American history and for celebrating AAPI Heritage Month. To view the full presentation, click here.

AABANY Co-Sponsors: Asian Americans at a Crossroads: A Conversation with Frank Wu, President of Queens College

On September 8th, Seton Hall Law School hosted a webinar entitled “Asian Americans at a Crossroads: COVID-19, #BLM, Discrimination, and Allyship,” which AABANY co-sponsored. The event, moderated by Professor Marina Lao, was a virtual conversation with Professor Frank H. Wu, President at Queens College, CUNY, who discussed the problems facing the Asian and Asian-American communities, the importance of allyship and building bridges across communities of color, and the history that surrounds both.

Professor Wu began the discussion by talking about how he got interested in studying Asian American history in college, when he wanted to write a paper on Asian American issues and civil rights and found not a single book written on the subject. He then realized that United States racial history was taught in a black and white paradigm: it treated everyone as falling into these two supposedly “opposite” categories. In doing so, history has taught Asian Americans that they have three options: they must aspire to be “honorary white people,” fall into the supposedly “lesser” category as people of color, or accept that they will never fit into the body politic.

He then recounted his upbringing in Detroit, where people assumed that he belonged halfway around the world and bullied him with racist slurs. They ingrained in him a perpetual foreigner syndrome, which has recently become more common and intensified with the association of all Asians with COVID-19. Only after the murder of Vincent Chin did Professor Wu realize that these weren’t just harmless jokes. In 1982 Detroit, Chin, a working class Chinese citizen, was harassed with racial slurs and bludgeoned to death by two automobile workers; they saw Chin as a foreigner, as someone who stole their jobs and thus must be punished. The killers got a fine and probation for three years, which Professor Wu revisited in 2012 when he co-wrote the AABANY Trial Reenactment of the Murder of Vincent Chin. 

During this horrific incident in 1982, Professor Wu first learned the importance of bridge building and forming coalitions. He realized that in America, all Asians have to come together to form one Asian-American culture in order to emphasize that they are Americans. He then realized he needed to better understand the Black struggle. He followed the path of W.E.B. DuBois, who situated the fight for Black liberation in the importance of cooperation and coalition.

He concluded by discussing the importance of Asian Americans supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. He discussed the dangers of the model minority myth, and how it was designed to enforce anti-Black/Latinx racism. He explained how in this moment, Asian Americans have to try to understand other people’s sufferings, which can be more severe than ours. Asian Americans are at a crossroads: do we aspire to the silent norms and enforce them? Or do we proudly affirm our status as people of color and stand in solidarity and fight for the liberation of other races? The lives of Asian Americans can only be truly secure and protected when people who look different also feel that their place is secure too.

Professor Wu’s conversation highlights some of the many unique changes and challenges that Asian Americans are experiencing this year. Now more than ever, it is incredibly important to not only understand Asian American history and its ties to Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and other racial and ethnic histories, but also — and more importantly — learn from those triumphs and mistakes of the past. In order to create a history we are proud of, we must look behind us and strive forward, together.

Thank you to the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA) at Seton Hall Law School for hosting and organizing the event. To view the full recording of the conversation on YouTube, click the link above.

NY Daily News Publishes Op-Ed on Startling Rise in Anti-Asian Bias Incidents and Hate Crime Reports

On April 8, 2020, the New York Daily News published an op-ed entitled “Bias, group hate and the coronavirus pandemic,” authored by Deborah Lauter, Executive Director of the New York City Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes, Carmelyn P. Malalis, Chair and Commissioner of the New York City Commission on Human Rights, and Bitta Mostofi, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.

The op-ed highlights the startling increase of bias incidents and hate crimes related to COVID-19 being reported by Asians and Asian Americans across the country in recent weeks. It notes that during times of crisis, societies are susceptible to fear. In the current COVID-19 pandemic situation, that fear has manifested itself in the form of mistrust, hatred, and division on a national level. The authors point to several examples of similar societal reactions in history during times of national and international crises. They encouraged readers to learn from history’s mistakes and stressed the need to support the Chinese and other Asian communities that are being scapegoated and increasingly living in fear of being targeted in the current environment.

To read the full op-ed, click on the following link: https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-bias-group-hate-coronavirus-20200409-hocvcsn7orarvhruqoxxkay2my-story.html

Congratulations to Ushir Pandit-Durant on Her Historic Induction as Queens Supreme Court Justice

On December 21, the Hon. Ushir Pandit-Durant made history as the first South Asian judge elected to New York State Supreme Court in Queens and the first South Asian woman judge elected in New York State. Justice Pandit-Duran was sworn in by the Hon. Randall T. Eng (ret.), former Presiding Justice of the Second Department, New York State Appellate Division. Justice Eng was the first Asian American elected judge in New York State so it was especially fitting for one trailblazer in the Asian American community to swear in another trailblazer. Hon. Joseph Zayas, Administrative Judge of the Queens Supreme Court, Criminal Term, presided.

Justice Pandit-Duran began her career as a Prosecutor in the Queens County District Attorney’s Office, serving there with distinction for 25 years before being elected to New York City Civil Court in 2015, becoming the first South Asian to hold that elected office.

The induction took place at the Queens Supreme Court in Kew Gardens. Numerous speakers, including elected officials and community leaders, extolled Justice Pandit-Duran’s exemplification of the American Dream, coming here at age 10 not speaking a word of English and rising up to become a top prosecutor and now judge. As a South Asian, Justice Pandit-Durant reflects the diversity of Queens, one of the most diverse boroughs of New York City, with a large Asian population. Justice Pandit-Durant is herself a bar leader, having served as the first President of the South Asian Indo-Caribbean Bar Association of Queens.

AABANY congratulates Justice Pandit-Durant on her historic election and wishes her continued success and achievement as a Justice of the Supreme Court.

Press Release: AABANY Launches Online Educational Resource for Reenactments of Historical Trials Involving Asian Americans

NEW YORK – January 6, 2016 – The Asian American Bar Association of New York (“AABANY”) is excited to announce that it has launched an online educational resource for its historical trial reenactments. Since 2007, under the leadership and directions of Hon. Denny Chin of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and Kathy Hirata Chin, Partner at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP, AABANY has produced and performed a series of trial reenactments based on notable trials and cases involving Asian Americans. Performed by a core team of AABANY members at the annual conventions of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (“NAPABA”), each dramatic program utilizes the format of a reenactment of an historic trial or appeal. We invite you to visit reenactments.aabany.org to relive and to learn about important aspects of American history that have too often been overlooked, ignored, or forgotten.  Read the full press release here.

’22 Lewd Chinese Women’ and Other Courtroom Dramas

’22 Lewd Chinese Women’ and Other Courtroom Dramas