by Yoshinori H.T. Himel
On March 9th, the ABAS Law Foundation presented “A Conversation on Civics with Chief Justice of California Tani Cantil-Sakauye,” in the courtroom at Pacific McGeorge. This was the kickoff event of “ABAS Law Foundation Presents…,” the Foundation’s new series of speakers and events to provoke discussion and inform the public on often-overlooked subjects. Event chair Jerilyn Paik and Foundation president Yoshinori Himel moderated.
The event was well-attended, with community leaders, law professors, Judge James Mize, Dr. Pamela A. Eibeck, President of the University of the Pacific, Jay Mootz, Dean of Pacific McGeorge, law students, and several dozen high school students and parents from schools including Kennedy High School, NP3 Charter High School, and the Florin High School Law Academy. The event began with a reception and continued with questions and answers from moderators and the audience.
When asked for lessons in civic responsibility from her parents and upbringing, the Chief told about her mother’s experience of disrespect and humiliation in court as a pro se. She asked herself, why can’t we take more control over the process? When asked for civics lessons from her husband’s parents, she told how 120,000 innocent persons were imprisoned at the stroke of a pen, including his father at Tule Lake, California, and his mother at Amache, Colorado. The Chief found it remarkable that the larger society expressed little protest against the injustice.
The Chief told of learning about California’s historical bar to aliens practicing law, the Chinese Exclusion Act, and the prohibition against African-American and Asian witnesses testifying against whites. She said she later found that society was no longer silent, and the courts no longer racially closed, when she heard the voices of Dale Minami and his client, Fred Korematsu, raised in Korematsu’s 1980s court battle against the mass imprisonment. But, she said, the mass imprisonment has parallels in today’s fear of immigrants.
When asked how the justice system has changed, the Chief said the judicial canons have changed to encourage judges to participate outside their courtrooms. She also cited mental health courts and Sacramento’s Veterans Treatment Court as examples of worthwhile responses to societal needs.
How does one prepare for a legal career? The Chief answered that the “law is vast;” be around people who think differently, and go outside your comfort zone. She recalled Condoleezza Rice‘s counsel that if you’re good in math, take English. Don’t be quick to judge others.
The Chief responded to a question of how, when a law office did not hire her, she improved her career skills by dealing blackjack at Harrah’s. She learned what risks increase after drinking, how people bluff at the table, how people tell their problems, and how to read body language to pick a jury.
How does one persuade high school seniors to get involved in civic activities? The Chief recommended hands-on projects, because in working together as a team, people get the same experience as in real governance projects, with tasks, deadlines, and ultimate celebration.
Finally, what are the responsibilities of active citizenship? The Chief advised: First, read critically. Ask yourself: Who wrote it? Is the person disinterested? Do they have the facts? What’s the evidence? Reserve judgment and think for yourself: How can I make it work for me? Then, speak respectfully. Instead of a harsh tone, respectful disagreement gets us to a better place.
Coming attractions in this series include: May 25, Dale Minami on Asian-American empowerment under the law. Visit http://www.abaslawfoundation.org for notice of the next programs: human trafficking and its impact on the Asian-American community, and heroes of conscience at Tule Lake.