Lawyers’ groups decry lack of representation of AAPI judges in NYS Unified Court System

by Ricky Rillera

New York State Supreme Courthouse | Photo by Beyond My Ken via Wikimedia

NEW YORK – Asian American Pacific Islander judges are significantly underrepresented in the New York court system, a lawyers’ groups said in a joint statement.

According to New York State Unified Court System’s (UCS) data as of April 2021, AAPI judges represent only 3 percent of 1,227 judges across the state. The lawyers also noted that the Court of Claims and Supreme Court Appellate Division – across all four Divisions – have only a total of two AAPI judges in each court.

The South Asian Bar Association of New York (SABANY), Asian American Bar Association of New York (AABANY), Korean American Lawyers Association of Greater New York (KALAGNY), and the Filipino American Lawyers Association of New York (FALA New York), called on UCS administrators to fill current judicial vacancies with highly qualified AAPI judges. These vacancies include positions of Administrative Judge in the Civil Court of the City of New York, Administrative Judge of Supreme Court, Criminal Term in Bronx County, Administrative Judge of Supreme Court, Criminal Matters in Queens County, and Appellate Term First Department.

While the lawyers applauded Governor Andrew Cuomo’s action to increase diversity with the appointments of judges in several courts, they decried that no judge of AAPI descent was appointed to these courts. Cuomo appointed two judges to the Court of Appeals, eight to the Supreme Court, Appellate Divisions, and eight to the Court of Claims.

“This failure represents a missed opportunity to address long standing underrepresentation of Asian communities in the New York courts,” they said.

Asians are the nation’s fastest-growing racial group. Nearly 23 million individuals in the United States identify Asian Americans with origins from 20 different countries across East and Southeast Asia and the Indian Subcontinent. And yet, despite making up six percent of the population, according to the Center for American Progress, they account for less than 3 percent of active judges in the lower federal courts in 2020.

The lawyers cited the report of Secretary Jeh Johnson on equal justice in the New York State courts, which said that Asian representation on the bench is not a recent phenomenon. Rather, Asian communities, like their counterparts in the Black and Latinx communities, have been historically underrepresented in New York courts for decades. However, unlike other communities of color, Asian representation has lagged due to a failure by political and judicial leaders to support and promote AAPI judges.

“Representation matters to the legal profession, to our community, and especially to a new generation of lawyers who look to AAPI leaders on the bench for inspiration. There is a significant number of highly qualified AAPI candidates amongst the New York legal community,” the lawyers said. “We ask Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks and Deputy Chief Administrative Judge (NYC), Judge George J. Silver, to take action and use this unique opportunity to increase AAPI representation in the leadership ranks of our State judiciary. Our organizations remain ready to collaborate with leaders at UCS to identify qualified candidates to serve in these leadership positions.”

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