SAN FRANCISCO — A legal trailblazer and longest-serving sitting member of the California Supreme Court said Wednesday he’ll retire this year, giving Gov. Gavin Newsom an opportunity to shape the state’s highest court.
Justice Ming W. Chin will retire Aug. 31 after nearly 25 years on the state Supreme Court.
Chin was the first Chinese American appointed to the court, by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson in 1996, and its second Asian American. The current seven-member court has three Asian Americans, including Chief Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye.
Chin gained a reputation for being prolific, thoughtful and hard-working. He authored a landmark decision that paved the way for spousal abuse to be used as a defense in murder cases and joined the majority in 1997 to strike down a law requiring minors to get parental or judicial approval before having an abortion. He is an expert on DNA evidence.
A former justice once said Chin’s opinions were characterized by “clarity and courage.”
Asian Americans Are Well Represented in the Legal Profession
“”If that is what is written about me in 50 years, I would be happy,” he said.
Chin, 77, is the son of Chinese immigrants and the youngest of eight children who grew up working on his parents’ potato farm near Klamath Falls, Oregon. His parents did not have the opportunity to attend elementary school, but they stressed upon their children the power of education.
He said he was inspired to become a lawyer after his private Catholic boarding school stopped providing lodging for its students, and he went to live with the family of a local judge.
“His career has produced opinions and dissents that are strong statements of principle expressed with admirable clarity. They are also often stated with good humor and a collegiality that I’m sure his colleagues will miss,” said Wilson in a news release issued by the court.
Asian Americans are well represented in the legal profession. But a study by California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu and Yale University law students showed they are sorely underrepresented in the profession’s top ranks.
Justice Joyce Kennard, who retired in 2014, was the first Asian American named to the California Supreme Court.