Edward M. Chen’s confirmation to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California by the U.S. Senate in May 2011 was one of this year’s highlights, capping off an almost three-year bruising battle fought by numerous community members and legal advocates, including Minami Tamaki Partner Dale Minami.
In Aug. 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Judge Chen, who was serving as a federal magistrate judge for the Northern District of California since April 2001. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California recommended to the President that Judge Chen be appointed as an Article III judge.
Judge Chen earned a sterling judicial record and gained the support and respect of all sectors of the bar. His nomination came from a bipartisan advisory committee and was strongly supported by multiple bar associations, law enforcement officials and prosecutors. The American Bar Association bestowed its highest ranking, “unanimously well qualified,” upon him and the Bar Association of San Francisco rated him “exceptionally well qualified,” a distinction reserved for only the most exceptional candidates.
Judge Chen was the first Asian Pacific American to be nominated to the Northern District Court judge bench to the court that rendered many infamous civil rights decisions affecting Asian Pacific Americans – including United States v. Korematsu and Yick Wo v. Hopkins. Notably, Judge Chen was also part of the original legal team that overturned the conviction of Fred Korematsu, 40 years after the fact.
Unfortunately, opponents of Judge Chen blocked his appointment mostly because of his work with the ACLU as a Staff Attorney some 10 years earlier. The President had to re-nominate Judge Chen twice because of partisan gridlock. In a Feb. 2010 editorial, “Edward Chen: Portrait of a Patriot,” the San Francisco Chronicle, said that Chen had “become a target of the type of ideological smear campaign that corrodes the level of public discourse as the vacuous vitriol echoes in the blogosphere and on talk radio.”
A powerful community effort quickly mobilized to support Judge Chen. More than 2,500 supporters from around the country endorsed letters of support for him. The National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA), Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area (AABA), Asian American Justice Center, American Constitution Society, and numerous other organizations rallied to press the Senate for Judge Chen’s confirmation. His nomination languished for more than 600 days, until May 10, 2011, when the U.S. Senate confirmed Judge Chen.
Several months later in September, more than 800 friends, family and supporters attended Judge Chen’s induction ceremony in San Francisco. The historic occasion included remarks by Senator Dianne Feinstein, Chief U.S. District Judge James Ware, Judge Charles Breyer and Dale Minami.
In his remarks at the ceremony, Minami, a long time friend of Judge Chen’s described the two Ed Chen’s – the “Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Ed” personalities, one who displayed legal brilliance, the commitment to justice, and enormous compassion and another with a perverse and occasionally clever sense of humor and great loyalty to his family, his friends and his community.
Dale noted the balance Judge Chen achieved during a successful but sometimes difficult life overcoming the early death of his father and older brother and helping his single mom who raised four sons, he was lucky enough to meet and marry Janet Lee Chen and raise two kids, Tara and Luke.
“From our first meeting in a class I taught at Berkeley, to his work with our Korematsu team and now his ascension to the Federal bench, Judge Chen has maintained his friends, his values, his humility, humanity and goofy sense of humor”, said Minami. “He will continue to be a great jurist and we are proud, relieved and joyful at this investiture!”
All photos by Dexter Washington Photography