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EDNY hosts Supreme Court reenactments for Asian Pacific Heritage Month

Cases highlight history of exclusionary immigration policies in the U.S.

May 30, 2019 By Caroline Ourso

Judges and members of the Asian American Bar Association of New York and the South Asian Bar Association of New York teamed up for Asian Pacific Heritage Month on Thursday to present a reenactment of two Supreme Court cases addressing historically discriminatory immigration policies for Asian immigrants.

“The narratives, like the underlying cases, are powerful,” said Ryan Budhu, president of SABANY, during the program’s introduction inside the Ceremonial Courtroom of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. “What both cases demonstrate is that Asian-Americans have made their impact on American history, and in turn, the laws of this country have made an impact on the Asian-American narrative.”

The two cases, Ozawa v. United States and United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind, took place in the early 1920s, and the results were similar with Ozawa and Thind each being found ineligible for citizenship based solely on their race.

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Ryan Budhu speaks to open the reenactment of two early Supreme Court cases inside the Ceremonial Courtroom on Thursday, May 23, 2019.

The Supreme Court’s reasoning for denying Ozawa and Thind citizenship varied in nuance but revolved around the principle that naturalization was originally reserved for “free white persons” only, with a later exception being added after the Civil War for peoples of African descent.

Ozawa was born in Japan, although he moved to the United States at the age of 19, and Thind was born in northern India, moving to the United States when he was 21.

“We choose (these cases) in part because these issues still resonate today,” said Kathy Chin, who writes the scripts for these reenactments along with her husband, Judge Denny Chin. “And that’s one of the most fun things about doing these — it starts conversations afterward.”

Malavika Rao, center, plays her role as Bagat Singh Thind during the reenactment of two early Supreme Court cases inside the Ceremonial Courtroom on Thursday, May 23, 2019.

“Even though Asian-Americans have been a small part of the population over the years, there are so many Supreme Court cases involving Asian-American litigants,” said Judge Chin when asked about the importance of recognizing Asian Pacific Heritage Month within the legal community. “That’s one of the reasons why we do this.

“From the immigration cases, to internment, to even the Harvard affirmative action case — it just seems that there are all these important issues that go to how the Constitution is interpreted that have been brought by Asian-American litigants.”


The Chins began writing and performing these reenactments 12 years ago, and every year they create a new performance based on a different case. Judge Chin explained that they look for cases of importance historically and that still resonate today.

Judge Denny Chin speaks during the reenactment of two early Supreme Court cases inside the Ceremonial Courtroom on Thursday, May 23, 2019.

“It’s been very gratifying,” Judge Chin added. “Many of our scripts have been performed across the country.”

“These reenactments are truly a team effort,” said Kathy Chin. “We’re primarily litigators, and as most of you know, litigators tend to be closet actors and actresses. So, we have a good time when we get up here and play roles.”

“We’ve had fun doing this, raising the issues, getting people excited,” said Judge Chin. “And these reenactments are just great teaching tools.”


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