VOLUME 28 NO. 5 | JANUARY 24 - JANUARY 30, 2009

The West Wing welcomes another attorney

Last updated 1-22-09 at 4:48 p.m.

Lawyer-presidents, from left to right, top to bottom:
John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, James Polk, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, Rutherford Hayes, Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, William Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, Franklin Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama

By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly

While the Obama administration will be one of the most diverse in the history of the United States, there is one thing about the president that will follow a common trend among the presidents before him. Of the 44 presidents, Obama will become the 25th lawyer to serve the United States.

“Certainly a law degree is not a prerequisite for serving as president and many non-lawyers have served admirably as the commander-in-chief,” stated Tina Matsuoka, the executive director of the National Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA). “[A] career in the law facilitates an understanding of the laws that shape our government and the policies that affect our day-to-day lives. The legal profession is one of the honorable fields that lend itself to public service and civic engagement,” Matsuoka said.

NAPABA is a national organization of attorneys, judges, law professors, and law students that serves as a national network for its members and advocates the legal needs of the Asian Pacific American community.

Obama graduated from Harvard Law School, where he became the school’s first Black president of the Harvard Law Review — a prestigious law journal producing legal scholarship. During a summer break in law school, Obama worked at an esteemed law firm where he met fellow Harvard law student and future wife, Michelle Robinson.

Rather than taking a lucrative job with a large law firm, Obama worked with a small, 12-attorney law firm in Chicago that focused on civil rights cases. Obama practiced law from 1993 to 2002. In addition to his law practice, he taught constitutional law for 12 years at the University of Chicago. After 2002, he ceased practicing law and pursued a career in politics.

Although more than half of U.S. presidents have a legal background, the lawyers mostly came earlier in our nation’s history. Obama is only the second attorney in 32 years to serve as president.

According to Harvard Magazine Online, Obama and Rutherford B. Hayes, the 19th president, are the only lawyers that graduated from Harvard Law School.

Tough legal issues ahead

The Obama administration faces many tough legal issues. Matsuoka points to several issues that NAPABA hopes the administration will address:

Diversity in choosing Federal Judges

“A crucial responsibility facing President-elect Obama is the selection and nomination of individuals to serve on the federal judiciary,” Matsuoka said. According to Matsuoka, there are only three Asian Pacific American judges outside of California and Hawaii. Matsuoka added, “In the history of the United States, there have only been two Asian Pacific American female article III judges and only one South Asian American article III judge.” Article III judges are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. These positions carry lifetime appointments.

Immigration reform

NAPABA supports immigration laws that are aimed to protect family-based immigration and due process. These legal reforms would facilitate immigration of individuals whose families are in the United States so that families will not have to be separated by backlog in visas.

Access to justice for individuals with limited English proficiency

Funding of state court interpreters is another issue backed by NAPABA. Matsuoka points to a bill that would allow states to access federal funds to break down language barriers by further developing its court interpreter programs. Currently, the State Court Interpreter Grant Program Act has not reached the House of Representatives or the Senate. NAPABA hopes that the Obama administration will support this bill for approval.

Recognition of Filipino WWII veterans as U.S. veterans

NAPABA supports the Filipino Veterans Equity Act and urges the Obama administration to work toward its passage, as many of the veterans that fought for the United States are in their 80s and 90s. This bill would grant veteran benefits to many Filipinos that served in World War II.

Legislative Director Shankar Narayan, of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, hopes that Obama will restore constitutional values to America. Narayan believes that the administration’s first job should be closing down Guantanamo Bay. “As a constitutional scholar, hopefully President Obama will restore due process as the country has gotten away from constitutional rights whether it is governmental secrecy, through the erosion of checks and balances, or curtailing [the rights] of media,” Narayan said.

With so many pressing legal issues ahead, Obama’s legal training will be useful in the days to come. (end)

Jason Cruz can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.


There are many parallels between the last Democratic President, William Jefferson “Bill” Clinton, and President Barrack Obama. They both taught law prior to being politicians. Obama taught at the University of Chicago and Clinton taught at the University of Arkansas.

In addition, they both married a classmate from their respective law schools. Obama met Michelle Robinson at Harvard, and Clinton met Hillary Rodham at Yale.

As a final tie-in between Obama and Clinton, Obama has nominated Hillary Clinton to become Secretary of State in his administration. Clinton ran against Obama in the Democratic primary.


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