Paul M. Igasaki retired in 2018 from his position as Chief Judge & Chair of the Department of Labor Administrative Review Board. Paul currently serves as Special Counsel for the Section.
Where are you from? How have your experiences here, or throughout your upbringing, influenced your passions and aspirations today?
I was born and raised in the Chicago area. I began my legal career in Northern California. I became a civil rights advocate and government official in Chicago and the DC area where I now live. As a Japanese American in the Midwest I saw how race drew sharp lines that people of color faced. The conflict between our rights and my family’s history led me to the law and civil rights. I learned from African Americans in Chicago how pride and being part of an active community can give hope for justice. I learned about the Asian and Japanese American communities and movements in California. I saw as well that the law can be a tool for justice, but that it had its limitations, especially when race and poverty are involved. In Chicago and Washington DC, I found that advocating for and implementing policy change both within and outside of government suited my interests and skills.
What drives you?
Justice, community, and family.
What is one thing most people do not know about you that you feel they should?
I am retired, so my focus has changed, though what matters to me has not. I had hoped to spend more time traveling and with family, though the pandemic has changed that direction for a time. I am spending more time with political advocacy as the limitations of a governmental or non-profit role are no longer an issue. And I will be more focused on my efforts with Asian and Japanese American issues.
When you look back, what is it that you want your advocacy and professional career to stand for?
For helping to advance justice and equality, from redress for Japanese Americans to preserving legal services for the poor; for empowering and uniting the underrepresented; and for supporting a united front for diversity and against violence and hate.
What is one issue which you care about or work most on and why?
Sometimes the most pressing issue of a time is not what one would have chosen, but a priority is thrust upon us. For me, the hate, harassment, and violence faced by Asian Americans and others targeted by race or immigrant status demands response. It has been a reality throughout our history in this country, but has risen with scapegoating or international tension. Exploitative politicians and the pandemic has driven the reality of that hate beyond recent memory.
What do you feel is the greatest challenge facing this issue today?
Hate and related harassment or violence is so difficult to fight. Hate crimes can be strengthened, made a greater prosecutorial priority and including intersectional incidents, but it provides response after the fact and so much of the hate incidents are not necessarily crimes. The underlying ignorance and imagined responsibility for disease for example, speaks to the need for deeper and earlier education about history and diversity, but these efforts are long term.
In what corners do you find the greatest support in propelling these issues you work on? In other words, who are your most frequent allies?
Allies are most likely found in other groups that have faced hate, including other people of color, religious minorities, and LGBTQ communities, the same coalitions most powerful on civil rights issues generally.
What CRSJ project(s) are you working on? Or, what have you undertaken in CRSJ that you found the most rewarding to have worked on? Are there any upcoming events or projects you want us all to know about?
So many issues before the ABA that have been most effectively faced have arisen with little advance warning by current events. That will likely often be the case. Others have been ongoing issues. I first joined the ABA staff when the Reagan administration sought to destroy federal legal services for the poor. The ABA was decisive in saving the program and still protects equal access to justice. I engaged this Section, then titled Individual Rights & Responsibility, when I was organizing for redress for the removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans in World War II. When I was Chair and on the Council of the Section we faced many issues, but I prioritized diversity in our leadership. While we wanted diversity, it had eluded us until we affirmatively acted to make it a priority. We have come a long way since then. I am rejoining the Section team this year as Special Counsel, so I will advise and coordinate with our committees. They will set the priorities that I work on with the Section in the year ahead. Many of the people involved with the committees I have been assigned to I know, but their issues have not been a major part of my work in the past, with the exception of the Rights of Immigrants. The other committees I will work with also include Free Speech and Free Press, International Human Rights, and Religious Freedom. Each have exciting and challenging issues before them in the year ahead.