Bloomberg Law
Feb. 13, 2023, 11:29 PM

First Asian American Confirmed to Third Circuit Appeals Court

Madison Alder
Madison Alder

Cindy Chung, the top federal prosecutor in Pittsburgh, was confirmed on a bipartisan vote to be the first Asian-American judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

Chung, 47, who has served as US attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania since 2021, was confirmed Monday by the Senate, 50-44.

She joins Arianna Freeman, who became the first woman of color to join the Philadelphia-based Third Circuit last September as President Joe Biden has prioritized diversifying the federal bench.

Chung will also fill the seat previously held by D. Brooks Smith, a George W. Bush appointee, which means the Third Circuit will be evenly split with seven Republican and seven Democratic-appointed judges.

The party of a judge’s appointing president isn’t an exact proxy for jurisprudence, but it’s often used to approximate the lean of a particular court. An appellate court’s composition can be particularly important when cases are reheard en banc before the whole or a larger panel of the court.

Chung previously worked as an assistant US attorney in the same office, as well as a trial judge in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and as an assistant district attorney in the New York County District Attorney’s Office.

She was following a career path established by her grandfather, who had served as a federal prosecutor in Korea, Chung said in remarks delivered at a Korean American Day event in Philadelphia in January 2022.

Integrity, Impartiality

Holding the US attorney position in Pittsburgh was “especially meaningful” since it’s where her parents lived when they first came to the US, Chung said in her 2022 Korean American Day remarks. Chung said she was the first Korean-American woman to be a US attorney.

Stephen Gilson, who worked with Chung at the US attorney’s office and taught a class on federal hate crimes with her at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, said some of Chung’s greatest strengths are her integrity, humility, and impartiality.

“Her ability to maintain a focus on the facts and thoroughly investigate those facts has been a huge part of her success as a prosecutor and as an attorney in general,” Gilson said.

At the Justice Department, Chung prosecuted the first case under the Shepherd-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevent Act involving an attack on five Hispanic men at a gas station parking lot in Arkansas.

Chung had earlier clerked for Judge Myron Thompson of the US District Court for the Middle District of Alabama after earning her law degree from Columbia in 2002. During law school, she interned for Justice Sonia Sotomayor when she was on US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Confirmation Process

At her confirmation hearing in September, Chung was introduced by both of her home-state senators, Bob Casey (D) and Pat Toomey (R). Toomey retired and was replaced by John Fetterman (D).

Chung faced questions from committee Republicans trying to pin down her personal views on issues like whether she believed in “racial quotas” or agreed with the immigration law enforcement practices of the Biden administration. Chung repeatedly said she couldn’t share her personal beliefs.

In response to a question from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on her judicial philosophy, Chung said she would use her decades of experience as a prosecutor and litigator to inform her decision making.

She said her philosophy would be “practical” and “recognize the limits of judicial power,” and that she would “work to issue clear rulings that made the holding and the underlying rationale clear.”

Three Republicans in the Democratic-led Senate, Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, voted to confirm Chung.

To contact the reporter on this story: Madison Alder in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Seth Stern at; John Crawley at

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