Quote Unquote: Why Hawai‘i Attorney General Doug Chin Blocked the Travel Ban

Doug Chin earned an English degree from Stanford University, moved to Hawai‘i to work for IBM, went to law school, worked as a private attorney, a city prosecutor, then Honolulu’s managing director. Now 50, he’s the state attorney general, thrust onto the national stage when he sued to block President Trump’s proposed travel ban on seven Muslim-majority nations.
Doug Chin
Photo: David Croxford

I THINK I wanted to be a journalist.


IN HIGH SCHOOL, I won a national award for writing the best movie review in the country. It was a movie review of The Right Stuff, back in 1984, that astronaut movie. I thought that would be my dream job, to be a movie reviewer.


I WAS A TECH WRITER for IBM, writing instruction manuals that said things like, press F4, then press return. I think I need a little more stress in my life. I enjoy the stress. That’s kind of weird, I know.


BEING A PROSECUTOR, you were always the good guy, you were always on the side of law enforcement. To all of a sudden realize, you are no longer on the side of right and wrong. There are people with one position and another. There are pros and cons.


I HAD TO LEARN diplomacy, which is something I didn’t really have to do that much before.




I’M OK with the fact that people are going to disagree. Through the whole process, I’ve had to develop a thick skin.


“It’s just that immigration and the issue of travel are very important to the state.”


I DEFINITELY THINK of this as my 15 minutes of fame.


I DON’T THINK I could have done this 15 or 20 years ago. Literally every day there’s something in the letter to the editor about something that is either positive or negative or some emails coming into our office.


IT’S KIND OF LIKE all your education and all your experience, whatever lessons I’ve been taught, it just kind of prepares you for whatever life throws at you.


I GO RUNNING. I’ve got dogs, I’ve got my family, so it’s just a lot of spending time with family. Being in public life, what’s really happened, is whenever I get private time, me and my family, we’re just sitting at home.


GROWING UP (in Bellevue), I was very familiar with the concept of being the token Asian or minority in a group of people who were basically all Caucasian. Talking about my culture was something that I didn’t really do with my friends.


MOVING TO HAWAI‘I was totally different. I became part of the majority. It was very eye-opening. Honestly, it helped me appreciate who I am and what I could contribute.


I WENT to the governor and said, we’re really thinking of taking on this travel ban. But I told him I realize it’s important that we pick our battles. I realize we don’t have the resources to fight every single thing out there that comes from President Trump.


IT’S JUST THAT immigration and the issue of travel are very important to the state.


IT DEFINITELY RESONATED with me, because … when my parents came from China, there were exclusionary acts in effect. You had to jump through all these hoops simply because you were coming from China.


I THINK MY OWN EXPERIENCE, growing up with my parents trying so hard to give me an American experience, I grew up in a generation where you don’t really believe that kind of discrimination is possible. So, then, to all of a sudden see this happen, is going against everything what we were all taught in high school and what we learned in law school about the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.


PEOPLE ACCUSE ME of supporting terrorists and being disloyal to the United States by not giving the President the deference he should have.


THE HARDEST THING is actually from people in the community who come from a religious faith. I’m actually religious.


I THINK THE WHOLE IDEA of standing up for freedom of religion is super important. If it’s not the Muslim faith, it would be Catholics or Jews or Mormons or Evangelical Christians. It could be any one of those groups.


SOMETHING ABOUT what happened with this travel ban executive order did really awaken something in me that I have to speak up about this. If I don’t say something, I’m not going to have a clear conscience.