Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Lucy Koh was confirmed Monday to a federal judgeship in San Jose, making her the first Asian-American to ever gain a spot on the Bay Area federal bench.

With no outward Republican dissent, the Senate confirmed Koh on a 90 to 0 vote, securing her a place in local legal history without any partisan conflict. In addition to giving northern California its first Asian federal judge, Koh also becomes the only current Korean-American federal judge in the nation and just the second in history.

San Francisco U.S. Magistrate Judge Edward Chen appeared headed toward the distinction of the area's first Asian federal judge, but Republicans have bogged down his nomination for months amid conservative concerns about his past work for the American Civil Liberties Union.

President Barack Obama nominated the 42-year-old Koh on the recommendation of California Sen. Barbara Boxer, who shares federal judge picks in the state with fellow Democrat Dianne Feinstein. Boxer introduced Koh when she appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee in February, recounting her family's story of fleeing communist North Korea before eventually emigrating to the United States.

Koh could not be reached for comment.

Koh, a former federal prosecutor, law firm partner and Harvard Law School graduate, has had strong backing for the federal judge position, both from Asian-American organizations long frustrated by the lack of representation in the region's federal courts and also from others who've pushed her career, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who named her to the state bench in 2008.


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The newly-minted judge also had strong political connections to the White House. Her husband, Stanford University law professor Mariano-Florentino Cuellar, has served as an adviser on immigration issues to the Obama administration.

The American Bar Association gave Koh a "qualified" rating in its evaluation of her credentials, and she encountered no serious opposition during the nomination process. Koh will fill the seat of veteran San Jose U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte, who has taken semi-retired status.

Koh is one of four Obama nominees to the northern California federal bench, and the second to be confirmed. U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg, previously a magistate judge in San Jose, has taken a seat in San Francisco. And in addition to Chen, Obama recently nominated Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Edward Davila to a San Francisco vacancy, giving him a chance to become the district's first Latino federal judge in more than a decade.

Contact Howard Mintz at 408-286-0236