United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind, Oyama v. California, Korematsu v. United States. These are but three of various Supreme Court cases that have involved Asian Americans, and that have profoundly shaped American legal, social, and political history. And today, a missed possibility of an Asian American involved in the highest court of the land: President Obama's selection of Chief Judge Merrick Garland to the Court, over another top contender, Judge Sri Srinivasan.
Though Asian Americans have long been at the footsteps of the Court or, in various instances, arguing before the Court, never has an Asian American been nominated to the Court.
I have no doubt that Garland is a stellar choice to put on the bench—and I wholeheartedly support the President's nomination—but today still remains somewhat of a missed opportunity for me.
Only ninety-three years ago, an Indian American was denied citizenship by the Court. Just over seventy years ago, the Court ruled that the Internment of Japanese Americans was legal. And just under seventy years ago, the Court failed to find California's Alien Land Laws unconstitutional.
When Asian Americans remain underrepresented in nearly all facets of American political life, an Asian American nominee would have been a testament to the growth of the Asian American community as a sociopolitical force. Asian America may be more powerful than ever before, but we still remain absent from many rooms and tables where decisions are being made.
I received a call a couple weeks ago at my day job—before Justice Antonin Scalia passed and this SCOTUS buzz began—from a white political science professor in Georgia, lamenting about people that call for more minority representation at various levels of government.
He refused, of course, to give me his name, but kept bemoaning about how we "didn't need more Asian American or women representatives," and that what we need is "people who are the best candidate for the job." (I was so annoyed, I was writing down what he said verbatim.)
This political science professor unfortunately also teaches an introductory course on American politics (much to my dismay), and bashed, "My students are always calling for more Asians, more women. I just don't get this generation."
I couldn't figure out what to say in response as my blood was boiling in anger, so after muttering a few lines of "thank you for your comments," I just slammed the phone into the receiver.
This is why, Professor: Because representation does matter. Because only when we see our own faces, our own people, and our own interests in a seat at the desperately white table, will we begin to be heard. Only when we, as People of Color, as underrepresented Americans, as citizens, can make the decisions that will influence our communities ourselves, can we look in the face of progress and embrace it.
When centuries of such decisions have been made for us, on our behalf but not our bequest, against our own interests and needs, we do not just deserve, but demand, to make these decisions ourselves.
There is no question that Chief Judge Garland is qualified, and as the question now turns to if the Senate will hold hearings and ultimately confirm him, I cannot help but think how powerful a Srinivasan nomination would have been.
Because as the Asian American population continues to skyrocket, as our electorate doubles (by 2040), as we tear down the barriers that keep us at the margins, the highest court of this country must begin to look like us, understand us, and represent our interests.
Yet despite this missed opportunity of increased representation, I implore Asian America to rally behind the President's decision, and not fall for the obstructionist measures put forth by Senate Republicans. They must hold hearings and ultimately confirm Judge Garland—doing so otherwise would betray the Constitution and the processes of law.
We must show support for the President and the Judge, if not to show that we support the rule of law, but in good faith, understanding that an Asian American nominee is no longer a matter of if, but now a matter of when.