Edward Chen -- a jokester, former civil rights lawyer, karaoke singer, esteemed magistrate judge, penny-pincher and target of a fierce conservative opposition -- celebrated his induction to the U.S. District Court Tuesday evening.
The estimated 900 guests who filled a record seven courtrooms in the federal courthouse were more than ready to celebrate Chen's confirmation -- and to razz the Senate Republicans who almost blocked it.
Just seconds into Chief Judge James Ware's welcoming remarks, the crowd burst into applause at the mere hint of Chen surviving the lengthy confirmation battle. President Obama first nominated him in August 2009, then three more times as opposition to the ex-ACLU staff attorney persisted.
Ware said of the large crowd: "It made me wonder if Judge Chen should be running for political office."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, who recommended then-Magistrate Judge Chen for the San Francisco seat on the Northern District bench, told the crowd there were times times over the last two years when "I wasn't quite certain this [confirmation] would take place."
She was "amazed" at how "some people went out of their way to distort and contrive."
Senate Republicans, led by Jeff Sessions of Alabama, had criticized Chen's liberal stances while an ACLU lawyer and used snippets of speeches he'd given while a magistrate judge to challenge his impartiality. One speech in particular became fodder for the GOP. Addressing law students in 2005, Chen talked about his mixed emotions at the funeral Fred Korematsu, the Japanese American prosecuted for evading internment and whose case at the ACLU is Chen's most famous. Chen recalled feelings of "ambivalence and cynicism when confronted with appeals to patriotism." A lesser publicized part of his speech included talking about being moved to tears when mourners sang "America the Beautiful."
In a subtle, poignant even, response to that criticism, some of Chen's friends led the crowd in a rendition of the song.
Honoring Chen were a long list of big names and old friends from the Bay Area legal community, including San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, Chen's former law school roommate, and Senior Ninth Circuit Judge James Browning, for whom Chen once clerked.
A colorful toast -- and roast -- came from Dale Minami, the influential plaintiff lawyer and Chen's former professor who lobbied hard for Chen's confirmation.
Minami captured Chen in a nutshell: A good bowler but a terrible golfer, a man of international experiences whose favorite cinematic characters are the Three Stoges, a judge who pens eloquent opinions and "very very juvenile emails," a man with a wicked sense of humor that could even be called "perverse," and a singer with a voice who can hush crowds even while he's clad in tourist-cliche attire of white sneakers and sweat socks pulled up mid-calf.
Recounting a trip to Hawaii, Minami said Chen took to the mic at a karaoke bar and sang Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World," for a crowd that grew silent and then gave a spontaneous standing ovation, "despite those white sweat socks."
Up next was Chen's former law partner at Coblentz, Patch, Duffy & Bass, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer.
For his part, Chen started off "dispelling two rumors" that contributed to the huge crowd: That there would be a Lexis raffle and that everyone was invited to a party at fellow District Judge Richard Seeborg's "Pacific Heights mansion."
He thanked Feinstein for "taking a chance" on a nominee who not only worked at the ACLU but also one whose first suit at the ACLU was against the city of San Francisco while Feinstein was mayor.
Chen on a couple of occasions turned his attention to Sessions, the Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee who once said Obama's nominees seemed to have "ACLU DNA." Chen, channeling his best Alabama drawl, remarked on the attention paid to his own nomination compared to Seeborg, who merely got a, "Judge Seeborg, good luck."
Taking a more serious tone, Chen said his confirmation shows that a nominee "who once represented the voiceless and impoverished rather than the wealthy and popular" can serve on the bench.
"ACLU in one' s DNA is not a disease," he said, "It is an honor."