An Asian American in U.S. high court after Scalia’s death?
Are you ready for an American Filipino in the U.S. Supreme Court? Not as a defendant, but as a sitting associate justice?
And while they could nominate a non-lawyer with a tremendous sense of fairness such as yours truly, I’m sorry. Black robes make me itch.
But an American Filipino like California Supreme Court Justice, Tani Cantil-Sakauye?
It could happen. I’m floating her name.
The Twitterverse was abuzz as soon as the news broke that Justice Antonin Scalia had been found dead while quail hunting at a resort in West Texas.
I didn’t notice many “R.I.P.” mentions, but was curious to find an honest expression of shocked disbelief. It was a mixed sense of sadness and relief that a tenacious opponent had passed on.
Based on your politics, Scalia’s death represented the end of an iconic rock-hard conservative, or the removal of a gigantic roadblock to a social change in America.
As an example, Ontheissues.org placed Scalia as pro-religion in terms of God’s place in official government activity; pro-gun; pro-corporation; strongly against abortion and a woman’s right to choose; against Obamacare; against tough environmental regulation; against a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented; against use of race in higher ed.
And that’s just a short list of Scalia’s hot-buttons. He had many.
President Obama who was in California for the first ever ASEAN meeting on American soil where many of our ancestral homeland leaders are convening, took time out to praise Scalia on Saturday night.
The president called Scalia a “brilliant legal mind with an energetic style, incisive wit and colorful opinions.”
That was a nice way to put it.
“He influenced a generation of judges, lawyers, and students and profoundly shaped the legal landscape,” said the president. “He will no doubt be remembered for being one of the most consequential members on the Supreme Court. Justice Scalia dedicated his life to the cornerstone of democracy, the rule of law.”
And then it was time for what everyone wanted to know: What about Scalia’s replacement?
Without being specific, the president said he would fulfill his constitutional responsibility to name a successor “in due time.”
“There will be plenty of time for me to do so and for the Senate to fulfill its responsibility to give that person a fair hearing and a timely vote,” the president said. “These are responsibilities I take seriously as should everyone. They are bigger than any one party. They are about our democracy.”
The Senate, though controlled by Republicans now, have 34 seats up for grabs in 2016: 10 Democrat/ 24 Republican.
Add that to the presidential race and the Scalia replacement becomes the hot topic of the campaign season.
Already, Sen. Mitch McConnell was saying there’d be no rush to let Obama handpick a successor to Scalia. And in Saturday night’s presidential debate, the front-runner Donald Trump was saying, “Delay, delay, delay.”
But there’s a chance for at least one vote before the end of the year, said John Trasvina, Dean of the University of San Francisco School of Law.
Saturday night, Trasvina, who was also a former counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, told me that the way the Senate is now, the GOP would be smart to allow one vote before the election. He figures if the GOP blocks a nomination now, the Democrats in the Senate will return the favor and definitely hold up a GOP president’s nominee.
But if the Democrats win big in November, a GOP Senate wouldn’t have the same leverage to block a Democratic president’s nominee.
“That’s why it will get done, at least a vote on one nominee, this year,” Trasvina said.
And that’s why an Asian American justice may finally make it through this time around.
Whomever Obama nominates in the not too distant future has to make it through the Republican-controlled Senate.
Some observers I’ve talked to have mentioned some likely Asian American names.
Neal Katyal, who served as acting Solicitor General from May 2010 to June 2011, has been mentioned by some outlets. He’s just happens to be a speaker at the AALDEF Lunar New Year dinner this week.
Other possible short list names like California Justice Goodwin Liu or Denny Chin, the 1st Asian American on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, have had run-ins with Republicans in the past.
Katyal is considered more moderate and one who might be able to overcome political opposition.
Another name is Sri Srinvasan, a judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The 48-year-old Indian immigrant is a Stanford Law grad. But his most appealing credential is his confirmation vote by the U.S. Senate in May 2013: 97-0.
Would Srinivasan be the favorite? Possibly. But Trasvina, another Stanford Law grad, mentioned how he likes a Filipino American.
“One Asian American judge who would enjoy bipartisan support is Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Chief Justice of the California State Supreme Court, a moderate appointed by Governor Schwarzenegger,” said Trasvina.
An Asian American of Filipino descent and a woman with Republican appeal? It could happen.
There has never been an Asian American to the Supreme Court. But it would be a delicious bit of judicial irony if the replacement of the late Justice Scalia were an abundantly qualified female person of color.
Now that would be quite the topper to the Scalia legacy.
Emil Guillermo is an award-winning journalist and commentator based in Northern California. His book, “Amok: Essays from an Asian American Perspective” won an American Book Award. Contact him: http://www.amok.com; www.twitter.com/emilamok ; www.fb.com/emilguillermomedia
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