Obama Nominates First Muslim American For Federal Judge

Muslim Advocates

President Obama nominated the first Muslim-American to serve on the federal judiciary — if he’s confirmed by the US Senate.

Abid Riaz Qureshi, a Pakistani-American who is a partner at Latham & Watkins LLP, was nominated Tuesday to serve on the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

“I am pleased to nominate Mr. Qureshi to serve on the United States District Court bench,” said President Obama in a statement. “I am confident he will serve the American people with integrity and a steadfast commitment to justice.”

Although Muslim-Americans have served as judges at the state level, if confirmed, Qureshi would be the first to serve at the federal level.

But it is unlikely Qureshi will be confirmed by the current Senate. First, it’s rare for a nomination made this late in a president’s term to be confirmed. And Senate Republicans have declined to move forward on dozens of other judicial nominations by the president for positions around the country.

In fact, two other Obama nominees to federal court in Washington, DC are pending from April — which would mean their nominations generally would proceed, if any do, ahead of Qureshi.

In all, there are 52 lifetime tenured, federal judicial nominations — in addition to Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland — pending in the Senate as of Wednesday, according to the White House.

Though many hurdles remain for Qureshi, Farhana Khera, the executive director for Muslim Advocates and a former counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, commended the president “for taking this important step in continuing to pick the best and brightest from every community” to serve as judges.

President Obama has made it a point to advocate for more diversity and gender equality in the judiciary. In addition to appointing Sonia Sotomayor as the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, Obama has appointed 120 minority federal judges — making it the first time in history that a majority of circuit judges are comprised of women and minorities, according to the White House. Eleven judges appointed by Obama are out gay or lesbian people. In contrast, only one was appointed prior to 2009 — by former President Clinton.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree from Cornell University in 1993 and Harvard Law School in 1997, Qureshi has worked at the same law firm for his entire career, specializing in the False Claims Act, health care fraud, and securities violations, according to the firm’s website.

Qureshi got the “Champions of Justice” Award in 2012 by the National Law Journal’s Legal Times, for his pro bono work and civil liberties advocacy. Qureshi is also on the DC Bar Association Legal Ethics Committee and has served as the chair of Latham’s Global Pro Bono Committee.

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