2018 marked a major milestone for America’s Asian American Pacific Islander population, with the appointment of the nation’s first Sikh-American Attorney General in New Jersey. Navdeep Singh, Policy Director of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association
discusses this milestone, as well as efforts underway to help bridge language barriers in the courtroom.
Traynham: New Jersey´s new governor, Phil Murphy, made history in January of this year, appointing the nation´s first Sikh American Attorney General. That nomination received unanimous support at a Senate Confirmation Hearing. Hello, and welcome to Comcast Newsmakers. I´m Robert Traynham. Navdeep Singh, policy director of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, joins me to discuss this milestone and the state of AAPI diversity and inclusion. Navdeep, welcome to the program.
Singh: Thank you for having me Robert.
Traynham: So first let´s start off with the significant milestone, and that is what I mentioned a few moments ago in New Jersey. Tell us about it.
Singh: Gurbir Grewal was confirmed as the Attorney General of the state of New Jersey, making him the first Sikh American to be a state chief law enforcement officer. This is significant on two counts. First, for what it means about the increasing diversity and inclusion of Asian American leaders taking on senior roles in the law. Second, for what it specifically means for the Sikh American community,
Traynham: I see. I want to transition now to diversity and inclusion, and specifically the work that you´re working on. Are there any projects, any examples that you can talk about? Because when I think of diversity and inclusion, Navdeep, I think of all races, all cultures. Quite frankly, gender. Whether you´re left handed or right handed. It means that we´re all different and we have something to contribute to the conversation or to the cause. Do you disagree or agree?
Singh: You´re absolutely right, Robert. Diversity and inclusion means that we are in a space where we can bring in different perspectives, different experiences, because they help inform the conversation, help us make, in our case as attorneys, looking at making better policies and better laws that are able to better serve our communities. That´s why Attorney General Grewal´s nomination was such a highlight and such a celebrated event within the Asian Pacific American legal community. As Napaba, along with Yale Law School, in a study that we conducted called Portrait Project, we found that there´s just a paucity of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders leading our legal profession, whether that be leading law firms, whether that be as serving as judges at the federal and state level, or whether that be serving as state´s or our country´s chief law enforcement officers. All of their experiences then come together, to help inform the stronger practice of law, to make sure that one, as lawyers, we´re better able to serve our communities, and uphold the rights of those under our constitution.
Traynham: Navdeep, a few moments ago you mentioned the Portrait Project. Let´s do a deeper dive on that. What specifically is that? Is that something where you´re kinda literally doing a deeper dive in the community and reporting out what you´re finding? What is that?
Singh: The Asian American Portrait Project, published by the National Pacific Asian American Bar Association, Yale Law School, and led by California Supreme Court Justice, Goodwin Liu, does an assessment of where the Asian Americans stand in the law today. How is the profession doing when it comes to the question of diversity and inclusion, with respect to Asian Americans. Are there practices that are driving Asian Americans out of the law? Are there implicit barriers and biases that they face when they go into courtrooms, when they go into law firms, or when they pursue careers in academia?
Traynham: I want to talk for a few moments about the court of law and the language barrier, because I found this to be pretty interesting when we were discussing it before. What is this, and what is the problem, and what is the solution, quite frankly?
Singh: Imagine that you´ve been wronged, and you want to go into a court to get relief for your claim. You go in, and no one can give you any guidance, because everything is in English. You can´t avail yourself of the American justice system, or luckily, you´ve been able to get an attorney appointed to help you, but you can´t share your story with the judge, because there´s not adequate translation. This limits your ability to utilize the justice system the way that it´s been designed, and actually represents an infringement of your due process rights. We found in a report that we conducted, the National Asian Pacific Bar Association, a report that we conducted called Interpreting Justice. A look at limited proficient disservices that limited English proficient individuals receive in the courts, and what we found was that while some local and state courts are doing a great job, such as in Hawaii, of making sure that anyone, no matter what language they speak, can avail themselves of our court system. Other courts, such as our federal courts, are actually falling very far behind in making themselves open and accessible to all of the residents of our nation.
Traynham: Navdeep Singh, thank you very much for joining us. I really look forward to having you back on the program to talk about the solution with respect to the language barrier and diversity and inclusion in terms of the numbers. Keep up the great work, really appreciate it.
Singh: Thank you very much for having me.
Traynham: And of course thank you for joining us as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I´m Robert Traynham.