Updated: Apr. 11, 2023, 11:20 a.m.|
Published: Apr. 04, 2023, 2:00 p.m.
Originally published on NJ. com
By Punam P. Alam, Francis W. Yook and Janice V. Arellano
There has never been a justice of Asian or Pacific Islander descent appointed to the Supreme Court of New Jersey since its establishment in 1947. With the recent retirement of Justice Barry T. Albin and the current vacancy on the Supreme Court, New Jersey now has a chance to make history and respond to repeated calls to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion at all levels of the judiciary by filling the Supreme Court vacancy with its first Asian Pacific American (APA) Justice.
The disparity between the burgeoning population of APAs in New Jersey and the considerable underrepresentation of this population across various segments of our government is not only confounding but also fundamentally unfair.
Despite being the fastest-growing ethnic group in New Jersey, with over 1 million New Jersey residents identifying as Asian and accounting for approximately 11% of the state’s population, the APA community still awaits representation in New Jersey’s highest judicial body. The Asian Bar and the APA community implore members of the governor’s office and State Senate to finally effectuate the appointment that has been delayed for years if not decades.
APAs have a long history of struggling with discrimination and visibility in the U.S. In 1924, when U.S. President Calvin Coolidge restricted immigration from Asia by signing the Asian Exclusion Act, he said: “America must remain American.”
Sadly, this sentiment — from almost 100 years ago — survives today. Every day, APAs are confronted with bigotry, discrimination, hate, or ignorance. Asian hate crimes, which are often downplayed or ignored completely, have surged since the onset of the global pandemic, and remain underreported.
Our country’s most selective universities have even sought to limit the admissions of APA students. APAs make up part of the fabric of the United States, and should not be overlooked, excluded, or dismissed.
The disproportionate placement of APAs in positions of influence and visibility has the effect of reinforcing stereotypes and xenophobia against APAs. The narrative that APAs are not American must be dismantled. Enhancing representation should be embraced and prioritized.
More is required to remedy the underrepresentation and disenfranchisement of APAs in our country, and in our state. New Jersey can continue to advance causes in the name of its APA residents by placing its first APA jurist on the state’s Supreme Court.
The time is ripe to place an Asian American jurist on the high court – especially after two experienced, qualified, and deserving candidates have been vetted and endorsed by APALA-NJ, and, presented to the governor’s office for nomination.
The appointment of the state’s first APA associate justice would have an immediate, far-reaching, and lasting impact on the court system, the legal profession, the government, and, above all, New Jersey’s communities.
New Jersey would benefit tremendously from the unique perspective of an APA jurist on its high court.
Achieving a balanced bench composed of justices with different points of view that reflect the values and perspectives of its population will strengthen the Supreme Court and ensure that a consequential dispute has been thoroughly considered and weighed.
An APA jurist to the high court would not only constitute a historic appointment, but a practical and sensible one as well. There is no more impactful, meaningful step our government can take to support the APA Bar, community and population.
The appointment of a qualified APA Judge to the New Jersey Supreme Court is long overdue. It is a matter of when not if. The time is now.
Punam P. Alam is the president of the Asian Pacific American Lawyers Association of New Jersey, Inc., Francis W. Yook is the president-elect and Janice V. Arellano is the vice president of communications. They are all members of APALA-NJ’s Judicial and Prosecutorial Appointments Committee.