It’s Time for an Asian-Pacific American Attorney General | Commentary

Posted October 1, 2014 at 4:24pm

With the resignation of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., the president must nominate a highly qualified successor who will inspire confidence, and lead with grace and thoughtful decisiveness. That nominee must also be one likely to be confirmed by a Senate that may shift to Republican leadership in November.

President Barack Obama achieved important milestones with his Cabinet appointments. He built a legacy of firsts — particularly in the Asian-Pacific American community — where his inaugural Cabinet had three Asian-Pacific Americans. From there, diversifying the judiciary was on the top of his agenda.

This past May, the Senate’s confirmation of Theodore Chuang tripled the number of Asian-Pacific American federal judges. There had only been eight when the president took office. The Asian-Pacific American community was at an all-time high. But when Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned, it marked an all-time low. For the first time in 15 years, the president’s Cabinet did not include an Asian-Pacific American.

Obama now has the opportunity to achieve another milestone—the appointment of the nation’s first Asian-Pacific American attorney general.

The Asian-Pacific American legal community has many candidates with the requisite credentials and experience for the highest ranking posts in our government. Indeed, there are numerous highly qualified Asian-Pacific Americans who are ready to serve our country as its chief law enforcement officer.

A strong case can be made for Second Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Denny Chin — famously known as the “Madoff Judge.” He was confirmed, 98-0, in the Senate and received bipartisan support from Rudy Giuliani, now-FBI Director James B. Comey and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey. Chin has presided over trials in the criminal and terrorism context, including the conviction of a former Afghan tribal leader with ties to the Taliban.

Another strong candidate is New York U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who graced the cover of Time for his crackdown on Wall Street. And as former chief counsel to Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., he is no stranger to the Senate. Of course, we should not forget about longtime career prosecutor and current Hawaii U.S. Attorney Florence T. Nakakuni, who sailed through her confirmation hearing in 2009.

If Obama is interested in state attorneys general, he should consider California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris and Hawaii Attorney General David M. Louie. Both have deep roots in the Asian-Pacific American community and are well respected in legal circles.

Ivan K. Fong, the former General Counsel of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and former clerk to Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, would also be an interesting choice with his background in national security and prior experience as a Justice Department appointee.

These are just a few of the Asian-Pacific American lawyers and judges who are ready to serve the president as attorney general for the remainder of his second term. President Obama, we are ready to serve if you are willing to nominate.

William J. Simonitsch is president of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association and a partner at K&L Gates.