The United States has appointed its first Muslim American federal judge in Zahid Quraishi, a historic confirmation that is eliciting mixed emotions from the Muslim community.
The Rutgers law school graduate was nominated by Joe Biden and confirmed by the Senate on Thursday in an 81-16 vote. But Quraishi’s work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) during the Bush administration and his role in the Iraq war has garnered criticism too.
In a statement released in April, the Council on American Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights advocacy group, voiced concerns about Quraishi’s professional past.
“Cair remains concerned about the lack of clarity over Judge Quraishi’s past professional experiences in serving with the army in providing legal advice about detentions in Iraq during a time of US military abuse and his tenure at Ice during the last year of the Bush administration,” Cair’s government affairs department director, Robert McCaw, told the Guardian.
“Neither Judge Quraishi, the White House, or Congress addressed these prior work experiences nor did they publicly vet him on them. Cair continues to call on Quraishi to clarify his past professional experiences and in the meantime, we expect him to fulfill the duties of a judge by upholding the rights of all American citizens, including Muslims.”
The son of Pakistani immigrants, Quraishi was born in New York City and raised in New Jersey. After graduating law school, Quraishi was twice deployed to Iraq, in 2004 and 2006, where he was a military prosecutor and earned the rank of captain.
During his stint in the US army, Quraishi also served as a legal adviser for detention operations – a controversial position he has yet to publicly clarify. Quraishi went on to work for Ice during the Bush administration, provoking the ire of leftwing activists and Muslim organizations.
The American Muslim Bar Association told Law360 the group “remains concerned with the lack of transparency surrounding the judge’s involvement with the US army as a legal adviser for detention operations in Iraq and with [Ice]. The administration’s failure to consult major legal activists in the Muslim community preceding Judge Quraishi’s nomination was a missed opportunity to build trust and to find common ground in nominating a Muslim judge who can adequately and unbiasedly address the legal issues plaguing our underrepresented populations.”
This article was amended on 13 June 2021. An earlier version of the headline and sub-heading misspelled Quraishi’s name.