President Obama nominated a Washington lawyer Tuesday to a prestigious federal judgeship, making Abid Riaz Qureshi the first Muslim American tapped for the federal judiciary, according to advocacy organizations.
Qureshi has defended the civil rights of Muslim clients in cases against the New York City subway system and the Transportation Security Administration.
The White House announced Tuesday that Obama had chosen Qureshi, a partner at the District law firm Latham & Watkins LLP, to fill a spot on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Qureshi will not become a federal judge unless his nomination is approved by the Republican-controlled Senate.
Still, Muslim advocacy organizations celebrated Qureshi’s nomination and said that he would be the first Muslim American to serve as a federal judge.
Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said in a statement that Qureshi’s nomination “sends a message of inclusion that is welcomed by the American Muslim community.”
Qureshi has led his law firm’s pro bono committee for the past four years, and in that role, he has twice worked with the organization Muslim Advocates to defend Muslim clients’ civil rights, the organization’s executive director Farhana Khera said.
When two Muslim comedians successfully sued for the right to post their humorous advertisements about their religion in the New York subway, Qureshi represented them, Khera said. Before that, she said, he wrote a brief on behalf of a man whose laptop was seized and destroyed by customs officials at Dulles International Airport; Muslim Advocates argued in their amicus brief in that case that the man’s treatment was part of a pattern of Muslim Americans being unfairly targeted at customs.
“He obviously has an interest in these issues because of his own faith,” Khera said, but his experience is far broader. “He’s a very sharp legal mind, and he has a deep commitment to not only pro bono work, but I think to fairness and justice for people of all backgrounds.”
Qureshi’s law firm’s website says that he graduated summa cum laude from Cornell in 1993 and cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1997. Neither Qureshi nor the White House immediately responded to requests for comment.
Republicans in several states have expressed concerns about Islamic law entering the U.S. justice system. Though American courts have never taken sharia, which is Muslim theology, as a source for legal decisions, at least nine states have passed laws to ban the use of sharia law in American courts.
An earlier version of this article misstated the court where Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland served as a judge.