Remembering Herbert Choy, the first Korean-American lawyer in America

Remembering Hawaii

On January 6th, 1916, Herbert Choy was born on Kauai. His parents were Korean immigrants who came to Hawaii to work on sugar plantations.

After graduating from UH, he went to Harvard Law School — at a time when there were no affirmative action programs — where he was the only Asian in his class. After graduating from Harvard, he served in the US Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps during World War II from 1942-1946. Afterwards, he came home and started to practice law, becoming the first Korean-American lawyer admitted to the bar in the country.

He partnered with future US Senator Hirom Fong, and from 1957-1958 served as Attorney General for the Territory of Hawaii. When Fong was elected to the senate, he recommended Choy to President Richard Nixon for a seat on the Federal Court of Appeals. Nixon agreed, and Choy became the first Asian-American federal judge, as well as the first from Hawaii.

He served on the Ninth Circuit court until March 2004, when he died in his sleep due to complications from pneumonia.

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