Bring on the judges


In order to maintain public confidence in the legal system of a diverse country, those who uphold and enforce the laws must be from equally diverse backgrounds.

Before the Civil War, when sectional differences were acute, the Supreme Court was composed of justices who were chosen, in part, to maintain a regional balance. More recently, beginning in the late 20th century, the executive branch placed a premium on opening up the federal bench to women. So it is not surprising that today presidents sometimes strive to shape the judiciary in ways that are reflective of America’s religious and ethnic diversity.

If the Senate confirms Abid Qureshi, who President Barack Obama nominated last week to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the Washington attorney will become the first Muslim appointed to the federal bench.

This is a welcome development. Especially at a time when a ban on Muslim immigration has been proposed and, despite the fact that Islamic jurisprudence plays no part in the U.S. legal system, at least nine states have passed laws to ban the use of Sharia law in American courts, the public’s confidence in our legal system will benefit from the addition of otherwise qualified Muslim judges.

Who is Qureshi? He was born in Pakistan, became an American citizen and has degrees from Cornell University and Harvard Law School. He is a partner at Latham & Watkins LLP, where he works on health care fraud and securities issues. He also chairs the firm’s pro bono committee and has worked to defend Muslim clients’ civil rights. (Stuart Kurlander, a member of the Mid-Atlantic Media ownership group that publishes the Washington Jewish Week, is a partner at Latham & Watkins.)

Qureshi should not be confirmed merely because he is Muslim. He should undergo exactly the same quality and character analysis as every other federal court nominee. And if he otherwise merits the appointment, the Senate should confirm him. But therein lies a problem larger than Qureshi’s religion.

The Republican-led Senate, which had been dragging its feet in considering Obama’s federal court nominees, announced earlier this year that it will not act on any more appointments until the president’s term ends in January. That effectively put Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination as Supreme Court justice in deep freeze and does the same for every other judicial nominee. That makes no sense. There are 96 vacancies in the federal judiciary and 58 nominations pending. It is the Senate’s job to act on those nominations and not to use its constitutional role for political purposes.

Each of the nominees deserves a hearing. The Senate should fulfill its mandate to advise and consent.

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