SAN FRANCISCO — Harry Low, a pioneering Asian American jurist, passed away on Dec. 9. He was 90.
The San Francisco law firm of Minami Tamaki LLP posted the following tribute on Dec. 13: “He was a great friend to our firm, but even more importantly, he was an outstanding jurist, supporter of the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, mentor to many young attorneys, and a fierce advocate for civil rights. Our profound condolences to his wife, Mayling, and his family.
“Harry was San Francisco’s first Asian American judge, a justice of the California Court of Appeal, California’s 38th insurance commissioner, a mediator, an arbitrator, and leader of numerous organizations.
“Despite his success, he eschewed titles and allowed us to just call him ‘Harry.’ This reflected his humility and deep sense of humanity. You could talk to him casually and without formality with such ease in the presence of someone so accomplished.
“Harry was a wonderful supporter of our firm and its attorneys. He encouraged large nonprofits to retain us, a minority-owned firm, to diversify the professionals they relied upon. He stopped evictions of our clients in Japantown during the ‘urban renewal’ devastation removing Japanese Americans from Nihonmachi and African Americans from the Fillmore in San Francisco during the ’60s and ’70s, lobbied for the appointment of Asian American judges, and supported civil rights causes we fought for. He was an early activist and inspired us to continue our journey for equal rights and equal dignity.
“And he did this all with grace, finesse, and civility, which belied his strong commitment to our communities. Harry had an effortless manner, as a judge, mediator, and arbitrator, which mirrored his kindness to everyone in personal interactions.
“We at Minami Tamaki LLP owe a special debt to Justice Low – ‘Harry’ – and will honor his legacy in law, civil rights, and commitment to the community.”
Dale Minami of Minami Tamaki added, “We lost a giant … Not just a terrific jurist at all levels (municipal, superior and appellate courts) but an insurance commissioner, mediator and so importantly, a supporter of young API attorneys. He saved my butt several times in court with his seemingly effortless, low-key style. So subtle that I did not realize the genius until hours after the appearance! And his commitment to the API community and social justice was inspiring. RIP, Harry. We will miss you.”
The Chinese Historical Society of America said in a statement, “Low, as a jurist, had a groundbreaking career spanning over 65 years of legal experience in civil, criminal, and government law and, as a judge, authored opinions on virtually every area of California law. He was also a longtime friend of CHSA and our 2013 CHSA Voice & Vision honoree.
“CHSA extends our deepest condolences to his family and our heartfelt gratitude for and appreciation of Justice Harry Low and his profound imprint on the California, San Francisco, and Chinese American community.”
“Let’s rename UC’s Hastings Law School the Justice Harry W. Low School of Law,” said Jon Funabiki, former director of the Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism. “Justice Low became the first Asian American to pass the bar in California and then went on to become the first Asian American jurist in San Francisco. A civil rights leader, he also is being remembered by many journalists for playing a critical role in the movement to get San Francisco television stations to hire Asian American reporters and anchors.
“The UC Law School is searching for a new name after learning that its founder, Serranus Hastings, ‘masterminded a Gold Rush-era slaughter of Yuki men, women and children in and around his Mendocino County horse and cattle ranch 160 years ago,’ according to The New York Times.”
Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara said, “I am saddened to learn of the passing of former Insurance Commissioner and Justice Harry Low. He broke new ground as the first Asian American to lead the Department of Insurance and instilled a legacy of integrity and service to consumers that lives on to this day in our dedicated staff. My thoughts are with his family.”
Born March 12, 1931, in the San Joaquin Valley town of Oakdale, Low graduated from UC Berkeley law school in 1955 and worked at the California Attorney General’s Office from 1956 to 1966, when Gov. Pat Brown appointed him to San Francisco Municipal Court. He was named a Superior Court judge in 1974, and was later appointed to the California Court of Appeal. He retired in 1992. He also served on San Francisco’s Human Rights Commission and Police Commission.