The time is ripe for an Asian American on New York’s highest court

Asian Americans are under-represented in the legal system.

Asian Americans are under-represented in the legal system.

Asian Americans are under-represented in the legal system. Zolnierek/Shutterstock

We celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage month at a time of social change in New York, which has been rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic. Just over a year ago, New York City was the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders served the state and city we call home as frontline healthcare, restaurant and other essential workers. 

However, the bravery and compassion of Asian Americans during the pandemic has been met with a tidal wave of anti-Asian violence. While the overall prevalence of hate crimes dropped 6% in 2020, anti-Asian hate crime surged 145% nationwide, according to a data analysis by the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. In New York City, hate crime decreased by 38%, while anti-Asian hate crime increased by 833% from 2019 to 2020.

Asian Americans were spat on, had food thrown at them, endured beatings and were attacked with acid, while racial slurs were spewed at them by the perpetrators. Asians are the scapegoats for the devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The local governmental response to the wave of anti-Asian violence has been anemic and ineffective. The NYPD has struggled to properly categorize and respond to the surge of violence since early 2020. To date, no anti-Asian hate crime committed since last January has been successfully prosecuted in New York, in part because of pandemic-related trial delays. The surge in anti-Asian violence has emphasized the critical need for diversity at all levels of our government and particularly in leadership, including law enforcement, prosecutors’ offices,and the judiciary. According to census data, 32% of New York City’s population is white and 46% of the NYPD is white, while 14% of the city’s population is Asian American and only 9% of the NYPD is Asian American. Based on the NALP Directory of Legal Employers, the Manhattan district attorney’s lawyers are 77% are white and only .06% are Asian American

Our government must be diverse to fulfill Lincoln’s vision of a nation “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” The need in our city and state is urgent and necessary.

As reported in the Brennan Center’s State Supreme Court Diversity Update, across all state high courts, just 17% of judges are Black, Latino, Asian American or Native American. By contrast, people of color make up almost 40% of the U.S. population.

As the last census showed, Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial group in the United States, with over 1.5 million Asian Americans calling New York home. Asian Americans account for 9 percent of New York residents, but only 2.7% of Judges in New York State are Asian American. Yet, New York has never had an Asian American judge in its top court, the Court of Appeals, which has seven members. Even Georgia appointed its first Asian American to its top court in 2020.

Kathy Hirata Chin is currently the only Asian American potential candidate for possible appointment to New York Court of Appeals. Chin’s appointment by Gov. Andrew Cuomo would be a historic and profound demonstration of New York’s commitment to racial diversity and equity.