The Korematsu Lecture series was started in 2000 by a group of NYU law students who wished to create a lecture series in honor of Japanese internment challenger Fred Korematsu. The lecture provides a forum to address Asian American perspectives on the law and to honor Asian Americans who have substantially contributed to the development of the law while challenging the status quo.

This year’s special guest will be Judge Pamela Chen, a federal District Court Judge in the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn, New York.  She was nominated to the federal bench in January 2013 by President Obama, and sworn in on March 19, 2013.  Judge Chen is the first openly gay Asian-American federal judge and only the second Chinese female federal district court judge. 

Prior to taking the bench, Judge Chen served for almost fourteen years as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, where she prosecuted cases involving gang violence, drug trafficking, terrorism, and civil rights crimes.  As chief of the civil rights unit in that office, Judge Chen oversaw the development of its anti-human trafficking program, which resulted in the investigation and prosecution of hundreds of traffickers and the identification, rescue, and restoration of hundreds of survivors of trafficking.  In 2015, Judge Chen and Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch were honored by Sanctuary for Families for the anti-human trafficking work done by the U.S. Attorney Office under Attorney General Lynch’s leadership as U.S. Attorney.

Prior to joining the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Judge Chen was a Senior Trial Attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.  She began her legal career at the law firm of Arnold & Porter in Washington, D.C.  Judge Chen is a 1986 graduate of the Georgetown University Law Center.

This year’s lecture is titled “Race-Consciousness in School Admissions: The Evolving Debate Within and Without the APA Community.” Judge Chen wrangles with such tough questions as: Is affirmative action a necessary remedy for historical oppression, or, as its opponents accuse, “social engineering”? What is diversity? Where does the APA community fall in the raging debate over affirmative action?

In the 1944 Supreme Court case Korematsu v. U.S., it was held that racial classification of any kind was to be subjected under close scrutiny. Today, its legacy and application is debated in the context of education. The APA community once benefited from affirmative action. Now Asian-Americans find themselves dubbed the “model minority” while concurrently facing the “bamboo ceiling” and allegedly heightened standards for admission. What Judge Chen has seen is a more nuanced relationship between the APA community and affirmative action that is worth dissecting and discussing.

As a foundation, Judge Chen will review several landmark cases on affirmative action, from the 1978 Supreme Court Bakke case to the ongoing Fisher II case. She will discuss the courts’ rulings and grappling with the constitutionality and Equal Protection Clause, “critical mass” vs. quotas, and holistic consideration vs. racial stereotyping. Regarding the APA community’s increasingly torn position, she will discuss both views supporting affirmative action as innocuous to the APA community and indeed beneficial by increasing diversity, and opposing arguments that accuse affirmative action of achieving only “skin deep” diversity while portraying Asians as the “new Jews”  with the most to lose in a “zero sum game.” There will be a Q&A segment following the lecture, an opportunity for students to engage in this very current and complicated discourse.

This year’s Korematsu Lecture will be held on March 29, 2016 at 6:00 p.m., Vanderbilt Hall, Greenberg Lounge. To RSVP, click here.