Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, March 15, 2004


Page 1


Herbert Y.C. Choy, First Asian American to Serve On Federal Bench, Dies at 88


From Staff and Wire Service Reports


Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Senior Judge Herbert Y.C. Choy, the first Asian American to serve on the federal bench, died Wednesday at age 88.

Choy was named to the Ninth Circuit by President Nixon in 1971 and took senior status in 1984. He was a native of the Hawaiian island of Kauai and had chambers in Honolulu.

He was born in 1916 to Korean immigrants. He graduated from the University of Hawaii in 1938 and from Harvard Law School three years later, and was the first person of Korean ancestry to be admitted to practice law in the United States.

He was in private law practice, following military service, from 1946 until his appointment to the federal bench, except during service as territorial attorney general in 1957 and 1958.

A law partner was former U.S. Sen. Hiram Fong, R-Hawaii, who recommended Choy for appointment to the Ninth Circuit. Choy was the first Hawaiian ever appointed to the court.

“Judge Choy will be remembered by all who knew him as a man with enormous integrity who richly deserved the high positions he received but did not always seek,” Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Mary M. Schroeder said in a statement.

Choy was honored last December when his portrait, commissioned by his former law clerks, was donated to the Court of Appeals. One of those former law clerks is Ninth Circuit Judge Richard R. Clifton, who practiced in Honolulu after clerking for Choy from 1975 to 1976 and became the second Hawaiian to serve on the court.

“He taught me to render judgments without being disagree without being disagreeable,” Judge Clifton remarked when the portrait was unveiled. “He understood that the law is there for the entire community and that it should be administered fairly.”

Chief U.S. District Judge David Ezra of the District of Hawaii said of Choy:

“We deeply regret his passing but the legacy he has left of public service will not quickly be forgotten.”

Choy continued to hear cases most of the time he was on senior status.

He authored opinions upholding the constitutionality of a federal statute allowing child sexual abuse victims to testify via closed-circuit television and another statute imposing mandatory prison terms for carrying a gun while trafficking in drugs, allowing a Muslim inmate to sue Phoenix-area jail officials for allegedly imposing security measures at Muslim services that were not imposed at services of other religions, and upholding California’s “green advertising” law, which regulates advertisers’ claims that a product is “biodegradable” or “recycled.”

He also wrote an opinion upholding federal authority to administer public lands in Nevada, rejecting a rancher’s claim to grazing rights.

Funeral arrangements are pending, the Ninth Circuit Executive’s Office said.


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