The Asian Americans Advancing Justice—Asian American Justice Center (AAJC) organization is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that was founded in 1991 by the Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, which was founded in 1972. Today known as AAJC, the organization has affiliates in Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Washington D.C. and, San Francisco. The various affiliates within AAJC advocate for affirmative action, voting rights, and engage in litigation on behalf of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders. Each affiliate operates with separate staff, boards, and finances but each work together under the AAJC name.
The Asian Law Caucus of San Francisco founded AAJC in 1991, which was initially formed itself in 1972. Over the next few decades AAJC expanded to Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and Atlanta. The president of AAJC is John C. Yang. Mr. Yang is a former Senior Advisor for the U.S. Commerce Department’s East Asian Affairs division under the Obama administration.
AAJC has several corporate sponsors including AT&T, BB&T, Comcast NBC Universal, Facebook, Google, McDonalds, NCTA, Nielsen, Northrop Grumman, Southwest, The Rockfeller Group, The Walt Disney Company, Verizon, and, Walmart.AAJC is also supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Proteus Fund, the Atlantic Philanthropies, the Denta Quest Foundation, the GAPABA Law Foundation, College Futures Foundation, and, the American Bar Association.
In 2013, AAJC criticized Pottery Barn for selling Halloween costumes depicting a sushi chef and a kimono outfit. During a radio interview about the Halloween costume controversy, a representative with AAJC compared the selling of the Halloween costumes to “hate crimes” committed against Asian Americans in the United States. Pottery Barn later removed the costumes from its website and apologized after AAJC’s claim that the costumes were “culturally insensitive.” Ling Woo Liu, director of communications for AAJC summarized the controversy by saying, “like other minorities, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are real people who cannot and should not be commodified as Halloween costumes.”
In December of 2013, Monterey Park, California, faced threat of litigation from AAJC when a proposed ordinance would have required English lettering on business signs in the city. The ordinance was aimed at assisting emergency responders in identifying structures with foreign languages only on the exterior of a building. The proposed ordinance was later dropped.
AAJC has also pushed for the federal government to not register trademarks containing allegedly offensive or derogatory terms, saying that First Amendment protections do not apply to such terms. In a prominent Supreme Court case titled Matal v. Tam, AAJC filed an amicus curiae brief arguing that a provision of the Lanham Act prohibiting “disparaging” trademarks should be upheld. Members of a band called “The Slants” (a derogatory term for Asian-descended people that the Asian-American band members hoped to neuter as a reclaimed slur) had been denied a trademark on the band’s name. AAJC wrote that while it “support[s] efforts to reclaim and re-appropriate derogatory terms […] socially progressive reclamation movements are not an excuse to open federal trademark registration to vile epithets.” The Supreme Court struck down the provision unanimously, ruling that it violated the First Amendment.
In 2017, AAJC launched an online tracker of “hate crimes” against persons of Asian descent. AAJC said that it plans to share data from the tracker with the controversial Southern Poverty Law Center to, “raise awareness that hate incidents against AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) are not one-off incidents.”
In 1996, through a ballot initiative, California voters passed Proposition 209, which prohibited public institutions from considering race, sex, or ethnicity in admissions or other government services, seeking to end “affirmative action” in the state. AAJC has worked to reinstate affirmative action ever since the proposition passed in California. AAJC contends that affirmative action promotes equality, equal opportunity, and, helps keep colleges from discriminating against particular races. According to AAJC, in the absence of affirmative action college admissions officers could, “apply negative stereotypes based on cultural and racial biases.” In 2014, the Supreme Court of California upheld Proposition 209.