HFC Q&A with Hon. Simeon Acoba

An extension of Hawaii Filipino Chronicle’s April 17 cover story, writer Dennis Galolo asked the Honorable Simeon Acoba about the nation’s pressing social and political issues.

Hawaii Filipino Chronicle: Does the U.S. Supreme Court’s decidedly conservative edge affect minorities, including the Filipino community, in any way?
Hon. Simeon Acoba: Principles of equal treatment and due process are fundamental to our form of government under the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights. The diminution of these principles would be harmful to the survival of our democracy and the protection of all minorities, including Filipinos. Although there have been exceptions, the justices of the U. S. Supreme Court may hold views similar to those who appointed them and to those who confirmed their appointments. Thus, the outcome of elections in the other two branches of government would tend to have an impact on who is selected as a justice since the President appoints justices and the Senate confirms the appointments. Over time court decisions may tend to reflect the dominant view of the majority of sitting justices.

Since the terms of the justices are for life, their influence may extend far into the future. Once a decision is made it will usually remain in effect unless and until it is altered by the court. That is why it is crucial that the U. S. Supreme Court decisions adhere to fair and equal treatment and afford due process for all peoples.

Sometimes forgotten is that more cases are filed in state court than in federal court. In a state case, the state supreme court could render a decision under its state constitution’s Bill of Rights on, for example, whether equal treatment and due process were denied to an individual. The state supreme court may extend broader rights to individuals under the state constitution’s Bill of Rights than afforded under the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights by the U.S. Supreme Court, in similar situations, as long as the state decision does not violate federal law. The state decision would be effective only within that state.

HFC: Under former President Trump, it was more difficult for immigrants to obtain legal status if they used public benefits such as Medicaid, food stamps and housing vouchers. How do you feel about such regulations?

A: I am unfamiliar with the regulations. The need for immigration lawyers in Hawaii, I believe, is great. The number of private attorneys in immigration practice seems inadequate, although the UH Richardson School of Law has made efforts to meet this need through a legal clinic, and there are non-profit organizations that have attempted to provide assistance to immigrants. Conceivably, a permanent, independent agency that is adequately staffed and resourced (likely by the government since it would have the capability of maintaining such an entity) to provide legal assistance to immigrants would be helpful. A substantial political effort would probably be necessary to bring this about.

HFC: Do you agree or disagree with “packing” or increasing the numbers of U.S. Supreme Court justices?

A: “Packing” or adding members to the court to alter the current majority vote, may prove to be self-defeating. This approach may only encourage those opposing the increase to do the same thing when they are in power, further expanding the size of the court. It has not been shown that increasing the number of justices would increase the quality of decisions.

However, limiting the terms of the court members may restore a balance of views to the court, especially if the appointments were properly staggered. Periodically replacing longer serving members with new members of the court may revitalize the justices’ deliberations.

Further, long entrenched governmental power may not be beneficial for society. A judicial term that is less than the life term presently in effect should be sufficient to ensure that the justices would not be influenced by external influences in arriving at their decisions. The substantial obstacle to this course, however, is that a constitutional amendment would be required to institute limited terms.

HFC: What is your personal stance on de-funding the police as more jurisdictions are now doing?

A: “De-funding” is probably a term that is subject to different meanings depending on the views of the particular individual or entity advocating for or attacking the concept. It can be viewed as emphasizing that more government funds need to be devoted to alleviating the social conditions that give rise to confrontations between individuals and the police. It may be viewed as advocating for changes in police conduct and procedures that seem to disproportionately lead to serious injury or death. It may be viewed as actually reducing the police force, apparently on the premise that there would then be less contact between police and certain communities. But the root causes of conflict are deeper than a funding question.

More to the point, there are probably multiple factors involved in untoward contacts between individuals and the police. For example, stops and detentions of persons on the grounds of “reasonable suspicion” without more may sometimes engender stops that fall short of that minimal requirement for official contact.

Also, as another example, social and legal studies have identified “implicit bias”—bias that a person may not be conscious of—in various settings, including in the legal system where such bias may affect the administration of the law. Matters like these are at the crux of conflicts and would need to be resolved.

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