Obama nominates first Muslim American to be a Federal Judge

President Barack Obama hit another milestone when he tapped Abid Riaz Qureshi to serve on the US District Court for the District of Columbia. President Obama nominated Abid Riaz Qureshi of Maryland to serve on the United States District Court for the District of Columbia on Septembere 6. If he’s approved by the Senate, Qureshi will be the first Muslim American to serve as a federal judge.

Muslim rights groups have heralded Qureshi’s nomination as historic. Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the nomination “sends a message of inclusion” at a time of increased public animosity toward Muslims. “A judiciary that reflects the rich diversity of our nation helps ensure the fair and just administration of the law, and it is vital for American Muslims to be included,” said Farhana Khera, executive director of the legal group Muslim Advocates.

According to Muslim Advocates, Muslim Americans have served as judges at the state level but never at the federal or appellate level. As of this summer, Obama has appointed 120 minority federal judges, the highest number ever. This June marked the first time that the majority of circuit court judges were women and minorities. Eleven of Obama’s confirmed judges are openly gay or lesbian, compared with just one prior to 2009.

“I am pleased to nominate Mr. Qureshi to serve on the United States District Court bench,” President Obama is quoted saying in a Sept. 6 White House press release. “I am confident he will serve the American people with integrity and a steadfast commitment to justice.”

Qureshi, who is Pakistani-American, attended Harvard Law School and is currently a partner at the Washington, DC law firm Latham & Watkins, where he specializes in cases involving health care fraud, securities violations, and the False Claims Act. He also serves on the DC Bar Association’s Legal Ethics Committee and heads uphis firm’s global pro-bono program, which has provided free legal assistance to unaccompanied children fleeing violence in Central America, Syrian refugees, and nonviolent American prisoners seeking clemency. Obama said in a statement that he is “confident [Qureshi] will serve the American people with integrity and a steadfast commitment to justice.”

Qureshi still must be confirmed by the Senate Judiciary Committee. That may be difficult, given that Senate Republicans have slowed the judicial nomination process to a near halt, creating vacancies in federal courthouses across the country. Qureshi is supposed to fill the seat of Rosemary M. Collyer, who retired four months ago. Two other nominees to the DC court have been awaiting confirmation since April.

The National Law Journal in 2012, recognized Qureshi as a legal “champion” for his pro bono work. His clients have included prisoners, foreign-educated physical therapists and the National Organization of Concerned Black Men. But ” Other clients would make Qureshi both a target and a potent symbol in a political season where presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump has called for a ban on Muslims entering the country,” the Journal noted when Qureshi was one of several candidates being vetted for the post. “Qureshi has represented a Saudi-funded Islamic school in a labor dispute and the California-based civil rights group Muslim Advocates in a First Amendment case.

He is the global Chair of Latham’s Pro Bono Committee since 2012, and previously served as Co-chair for the Washington, D.C. office Litigation & Trial Department. “I commend President Obama for taking this important step in continuing to pick the best and brightest from every community to serve as part of our nation’s judiciary,” Farhana Khera, former counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and executive director of Muslim Advocates. “A judiciary that reflects the rich diversity of our nation helps ensure the fair and just administration of the law, and it is vital for American Muslims to be included,” Khera added.

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