Upon listening to “America the Beautiful,” President Obama’s most recently confirmed District Court judge’s first thought was not of spacious skies or amber waves of grain.
The judge couldn’t quite appreciate the beauty described in the song because of his cynicism towards America.
“Sometimes I cannot help but feel that there…too many inequalities that prevent far too many Americans from enjoying the beauty extolled in that anthem,” said Edward Chen at the Hastings Public Interest Graduation in 2005. Chen was just confirmed by the Senate Judiciary Committe as a District Judge in Northern California after a strict party-line vote; if installed, he’ll be the first Asian-Pacific-American judge in that district.
Chen’s thoughts after 9/11 and after the Virginia Tech shootings were in a similar vein.
“[O]ne has to wonder whether the seemingly irresistible forces of racism, nativism and scapegoating which have recurred so often in our history can be effectively restrained,” he said, after giving his regards to the 9/11 victims. After learning that the Virginia Tech shooter was Asian, his immediate feeling “that any of us could soon be . . . subject of a racial backlash, victimized by a hate crime.”
For sixteen years, Chen worked as a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, working on affirmative action, the death penalty, and discrimination cases, among other issues. He was the second nomination of the day that had ties to the ACLU, leading Rep. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, to comment, “I think we’re seeing a common DNA run through the Obama nominees, and that’s the ACLU chromosome.”
In his committee questionnaire, Chen said he likes the law because it allows him to influence justice, saying that he finds it “most rewarding” when he contributes to “the development of the law via published opinion, especially if it comports with my view of justice.”
“Mr. Chen by all indications is an able individual and a man of integrity,” said Sessions. But “important issues are raised by the nomination in both his writings and public comments as a magistrate judge [that] suggest that Judge Chen believes judges should interpret the law according to their own personal preferences.”
In a letter to the New York Times, Chen said that laws which are only in English represent “false, xenophobic assumptions;” in an earlier letter, he had characterized a preference for English language in the classroom and elsewhere as “anti-immigrant and xenophobic in character.”