In his State of the Union address, President Obama implored members of Congress to rise above the highly partisan and often petty “if you lose, I win” mentality that seems to pervade Washington. A test of who will heed those words comes today, when the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to take up Obama’s nomination of Edward Chen to become a U.S. District Court judge in Northern California.
Chen, 56, has become a target of the type of ideological smear campaign that corrodes the level of public discourse as the vacuous vitriol echoes in the blogosphere and on talk radio. Chen has been assailed in right-wing talking points as a radical who is obsessed with racial grievances and hates the country so much that he recoils at the sound of “America the Beautiful.”
There are two telling traits about the utter dishonesty in the trashing of Edward Chen. One, each of the anecdotes being used against him looks dramatically different in context. Two, the “case” against Chen does not include a shred of evidence from his nine years as a federal magistrate to challenge his dedication to administering the law in a fair and impartial manner.
The “America the Beautiful” example is the most common and the most outrageous distortion. Its origin was Chen’s May 20, 2005, speech to law graduates at the UC Hastings College of Law. Chen talked about being moved to tears when mourners sang the song during a service for Fred Korematsu, a U.S. citizen who had been convicted of defying the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Chen had been a member of the legal team that helped overturn Korematsu’s conviction in 1983.
Chen extolled the beauty in the principles of patriotism – “freedom, justice and equality under the law” – and how adherence to those American values was so much deeper and enduring than waving a flag or singing a song. No reasonable person could read the full text of that speech and not be struck by Chen’s reverence for his country – and the song “America the Beautiful” too. Other Chen speeches and writings have been similarly distorted.
It seems that much of the “evidence” of Chen as a radical is drawn from his work for the ACLU. But, again, an attorney’s advocacy role is much different than that of a judge – and Magistrate Chen has demonstrated his full appreciation for the value of a neutral arbiter who can act with absolute fidelity to the law.
Chen should be confirmed.