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Praise Aplenty for Court Nominee : Colleagues hail Ming W. Chin, the first Chinese American tapped for state’s top bench

That Gov. Pete Wilson made an excellent choice in naming Ming W. Chin to the California Supreme Court is confirmed by the praise for Chin from lawyers and jurists who rarely agree on anything. Thursday’s appointment was hailed by retiring conservative Justice Armand Arabian, whose seat Chin will fill, as well as by liberal Justice Stanley Mosk and Gerald Uelmen, the law professor and criminal defense attorney. Few appointees in recent years have met such universal and immediate acclaim.

Chin is the first Chinese American appointed to California’s high court, and once confirmed, he will be the second sitting justice with a minority background. But Chin’s personal history of achievement from humble roots is common to that of millions of Californians of all ethnicities. He is the son of Chinese immigrants--the youngest of eight children--and grew up on a potato farm in southern Oregon. Chin served in the Army during the Vietnam War era. He began his legal career as an Oakland prosecutor, later leaving to join a private firm in Oakland. Then-Gov. George Deukmejian appointed him to the Alameda Superior Court in 1988 and elevated him two years afterward to the Court of Appeal.

Chin’s judicial philosophy seems to represent the best of Wilson’s political philosophy. He is seen as moderately conservative but not inflexibly so, particularly in criminal matters. His appellate court opinions have been scholarly and enhanced by his wide reading outside the field of law.

Chin is expected to be easily approved by the Commission on Judicial Appointments and should take his seat by March. When he does, the Supreme Court should continue its move back toward the middle, following years in which it had a rigidly conservative bent. The governor still has one vacancy to fill on this court--Chief Justice Malcolm Lucas retires in May. As he reviews the many worthy candidates for this post, Wilson would do well to reflect on the words Chin wrote in 1989: “I am very proud to have opened some doors for others of my ancestry, but I will be most proud when it is no longer unusual for minorities to hold the kinds of positions in which I’ve had the privilege to serve.”

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