Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s reaction to a question from Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) during his confirmation hearing isn’t sitting right with the chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
In a statement exclusive to HuffPost, Rep. Judy Chu said that Kavanaugh’s inability to answer Harris’ question regarding the Chinese Exclusion Act, which was passed in 1882 and put a 10-year moratorium on Chinese labor immigration, is “alarming.”
Harris had asked the nominee last week whether the 1889 case that had upheld the law was correctly decided. The decision has yet to be overturned.
“This case has never been explicitly overruled,” Harris said during the hearing. “Was the United States Supreme Court correct in upholding that Chinese people could be banned from entering our country.”
While Kavanaugh admitted that the decision reflected “discriminatory attitudes” of the time, he declined to say whether the case was incorrectly decided when Harris pressed him a second time.
“Senator, I don’t want to opine on a case without looking at it and studying the discrimination,” he said.
And when asked if he believed that, under the Constitution, “Congress or the President can ban entry under the basis of race,” the nominee once again sidestepped the question, saying that this is an issue “that was just in litigation” and wouldn’t answer as a “matter of independence and precedent.”
“Not condemning policy based on prejudice indicates an openness to other disgraceful policies, like the Muslim travel ban proposed by Donald Trump, who also nominated Kavanaugh to this position,” Chu mentioned in her statement.
She added that his inability to answer the question also shows that Kavanaugh is an ill fit for a spot on the Supreme Court, considering the judicial branch has the power to determine the outcome of cases that impact immigrants and communities of color.
“We need to know that we have an impartial justice who will do what is best for our country, rather than simply propagate the same xenophobic views that led to shameful chapters in our nation’s history like the Chinese Exclusion Act,” she said in the statement.
The law, the first major legislation that explicitly banned a group of people from entering the U.S. based on ethnicity, had been passed during a time of rampant anti-Chinese sentiment. In the years ahead of the law’s passage, Chinese laborers took jobs on the transcontinental railroad, laying down tracks for half of the massive line, along with several other railroads in the West. Despite their hard work, the immigrants were ridiculed and emasculated, frequently described as “monkeys” or “midgets,” with their contributions often ignored.
“As the wave of immigrants increased, so did hostility toward the Chinese, who were willing to work for lower wages and longer hours,” Gay Yuen, board president of Los Angeles’ Chinese American Museum, previously said to HuffPost.
Chinese laborers were seen as threats and job stealers. And, as the Chinese population grew in the U.S., harmful stereotypes around the group as being unscrupulous also spread. Tensions eventually led to the passage of the act.
“The Chinese were originally seen as racially unassimilable,” Beth Lew-Williams, an assistant professor at Princeton specializing in Asian-American history, previously told HuffPost. “They could not become Americanized. They were simultaneously racially inferior, backwards, savage heathen ― and in some dangerous ways ― superior.”
Chu pointed out in her statement that the law reduced Chinese-Americans to second-class citizens. The 1889 case, Chae Chan Ping v. United States, essentially underscored the government’s absolute power to restrict immigration, claiming “the power of exclusion of foreigners being an incident of sovereignty belonging to the government of the United States.”
“This law left permanent scars on the Chinese-American community, denying them the ability to become naturalized citizens and forcing them to carry papers on them at all times or else be deported,” Chu said. “Judge Kavanaugh’s inability to say that discrimination on the basis of race alone is unlawful is just one of a litany of reasons that I am opposing his confirmation to the Supreme Court.”
While Kavanaugh is likely to get confirmed as he’s expected to get a favorable vote from all 11 Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, the vote has been delayed until next week.