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Elena Kagan: Would she turn Supreme Court into We the People?

Elena Kagan, if confirmed as the next Supreme Court justice, would shift the balance dramatically – with three women and a Jewish-Catholic bloc. So would the high court look like We the People?

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Dinh, too, may one day be another's inspiring example. A prominent conservative lawyer who came to the United States in 1978 as a 10-year-old Vietnamese refugee; clerked for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor; and went on to help draft the USA Patriot Act after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001; he could very well end up on a Republican president's shortlist for a Supreme Court vacancy.

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And if high-profile nominations to the federal courts of appeal are any indication of which demographic is next in line for Supreme Court representation, Asian-Americans appear to be on deck.

Mr. Obama recently nominated Goodwin Liu, whom The New York Times called a "liberal legal rock star," to the San Francisco-based Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Professor Liu, a 39-year-old University of California, Berkeley, law professor, has faced the kind of Republican Senate scrutiny reserved for lower-court nominees whose confirmations appear to be little more than steppingstones to the Supreme Court.

In endorsing Liu, the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) trumpets on its website his many qualifications, then states that the "confirmation of Professor Liu would help promote diversity in the federal judiciary, where Asian Pacific Americans are significantly underrepresented." Such a broad reason for support could as easily apply to Dinh, despite his and Liu's ideological differences.

But while NAPABA has taken no stand on whether diversity's value is aesthetic or experiential, Billy Chan, the Asian-American Bar Association president, has sided with Sotomayor's now-disavowed speech. "[Liu] brings more than his superior qualifications as a lawyer and a teacher. He brings his perspective as a person of color raised and working in the United States," wrote Mr. Chan in an April letter to the editor in the San Francisco Chronicle.

He chided conservatives for assuming "judges can magically remove themselves from life experience and make decisions purely on the facts and the law ... [they] are affected by their background and life experience as well as their intellectual analysis, and it is unrealistic to pretend otherwise."

But upon this sentiment, Dinh, Chan's fellow Asian-American, disagrees. "Justice O'Connor loved saying that a wise old woman thinks the same as a wise old man," says Dinh, voicing the very sentiment Sotomayor contested in her 2001 speech. "I think it is a profound mistake to assume that a person will think a certain way or approach the law from a certain perspective because of their backgrounds, be it race, gender, religion, or even political affiliation."

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SUPREME FACTS

Of 111 justices since 1789:

* 53 was the average age at appointment

* 36 served in the military

* 11 had no children

* 6 never married

* 4 were divorced

* 3 did not have a private law practice

* 39 were not judges before appointment

* 39 were Episcopalian

*18 attended and 14 graduated from Harvard Law School

* 26 were from judicial families

* 41 had fathers who held public office

* 39 grew up in urban or small-city settings

* 40 grew up on family farms, family plantations, or rural settings

* 31 grew up in small towns

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