Judge Delbert Wong
First Chinese American Graduate of Stanford University Law School
First Chinese American California Deputy Legislative Counsel
First Chinese American Judge in the continental U.S.
Delbert Wong is a fourth generation American of Chinese heritage. After earning his undergraduate degree in business at the U.C. at Berkeley, Wong served in World War II as a B-17 navigator, and was awarded numerous medals. After the war, Judge Wong faced a choice between "joining my family's grocery business or entering law school." This was not met with much support from his parents: "Who would hire you, a Chinese?" Undeterred, Wong completed his law degree in 1948, becoming the first Chinese American graduate of Stanford Law School.
After graduation, he was appointed Deputy Legislative Counsel serving the California State Legislature in Sacramento, and later appointed Deputy Attorney General, becoming the first Asian American to hold those positions.
Judge Wong's judicial career has spanned over 46 years, starting with as appointment to the Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1959. At the time of his appointment by Governor Edmund G. 'Pat' Brown, Wong was the first person of Chinese descent to serve in the judiciary in the continental United States. In 1961 he was elevated to the Superior Court where he served for over 20 years, including five years on the Appellate Department.
History, Ethnicity and the Law
His family directly felt the effects of the Chinese Exclusion Acts. "Even at the time when I became a lawyer, the California Constitution stated: 'Indians, imbeciles and Chinese are prohibited from testifying in court and ineligible from employment in public works, except as punishment for a crime.' There were other laws prohibiting Chinese from owning land. Also, my mother, who was born in Weaverville, California in 1901, lost her citizenship in 1919, by marrying my father, who was from China. She had to restore her citizenship, years later through the naturalization process" said Judge Wong.
"Because of the discrimination laws, many Chinese believed the courts could not be trusted," according to Judge Wong. This is part of the reason why Chinese Americans were late in getting into the legal profession and politics."
Was Judge Wong's ethnicity an issue in court? "When some minority criminal defendants came into my courtroom, they saw me (the judge also being a minority) they seemed relieved, perhaps sensing that he might be treated more fairly, thinking I could have a slightly better understanding of their position."
"Today we can be proud of the fact that with the exception of the United States Supreme Court there are Asian Americans presiding at every level of State and Federal Courts. We can be proud of the fact than Gary Locke, was elected Governor of the State of Washington. We can be proud that there are five Asian Americans serving in the California State Legislature, as mayors and city councilmen in many cities. We can be proud that there are Asian American lawyers teaching in the most prestigious universities, representing clients in all of the courts at every level, and sitting in places of responsibility on corporate boards and in major labor organizations."
"The glass ceiling is slowly cracking. We're living in an exciting period. Asian-Americans are winning elections. Each victory carries over to others, setting successful precedents and inspiring future politicians." (Courtesy of Jason Jem.)