The U.S. Senate confirmed today the appointment of Jacqueline H. Nguyen ’87 as a U.S. district judge for California’s Central District. She is the first Vietnamese-American to serve as a federal judge, as well as President Barack Obama ’83’s first judicial appointment in California.
Nguyen joins 24 other U.S. District Court judges in the central district -- the largest federal judicial district by population. It serves about 17 million people in the central and southern California counties of Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.
"Judge Nguyen is a tested judge with a track record of success as both a judge and a federal prosecutor," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said on the Senate floor. Feinstein recommended Nguyen’s appointment to Obama earlier this year. Prior to her federal court confirmation, Nguyen was a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, serving in nearby Alhambra. Then-Gov. Gray Davis named her to that court in 2002. Before that, Nguyen was an assistant U.S. attorney.
Nguyen graduated from Occidental with and A.B. in English, and a J.D. in law from UCLA Law School. She worked as a litigation associate in a private Los Angeles firm for four years before joining the U.S. Attorney’s office. An aggressive and savvy litigator, Nguyen received the U.S. Department of Justice’s Director’s Award for her 1999 prosecution of an immigration fraud ring case known as Operation Eastern Approach.
The journey to the upper echelons of the nation’s judicial system has been a long one for Nguyen. It started in 1975, when 10-year old Nguyen fled her native Vietnam with her family after the fall of Saigon. They boarded one of the last American military transports out of the city, and spent several weeks in a refugee camp in the Philippines before arriving at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base near San Diego. The family eventually settled in Montrose and went into the doughnut business, a venture that required very little capital.
Beginning as a teenager, Nguyen worked in the family business until her mother retired and sold the shop in 2001, working weekends even while she was a federal prosecutor. "I viewed it as my responsibility," she told Occidental magazine. "Many times I wanted something different for my life, but it also was a very grounding experience." It also made her quite popular among her neighbors in Occidental’s Stearns Hall as she usually returned to campus with a box of doughnuts, her roommate recalled.
Nguyen is the recipient of Occidental’s 2007 Alumni Seal Award for Professional Achievement.