The U.S. Constitution was ratified on June 21, 1788. Until this week, however, no U.S. president had used their constitutional authority to nominate judges to name a Muslim lawyer to a lifetime appointment on the federal bench.
President Obama broke that streak on Tuesday, with his nomination of attorney Abid Riaz Qureshi to sit on a federal district court in the District of Columbia. Qureshi, an honors graduate of Harvard Law School who’s worked at a large law firm his entire career and chaired its pro bono committee, possesses the conventional qualifications for a nominee to this position.
According to a press release from the civil rights group Muslim Advocates, Qureshi is “the first American Muslim to be nominated to serve on the federal judiciary.”
Obama made diversity a high priority in his judicial nominations throughout his presidency. A fact sheet distributed by the White House last June brags that 42 percent of his judicial appointments are women, as opposed to 22 percent for President George W. Bush and 29 percent for President Bill Clinton. At least 37 percent of Obama’s judges are people of color, including Justice Sonia Sotomayor, his first appointment to the Supreme Court. Eleven are openly gay or lesbian. Prior to Obama taking office, only one other openly gay person had been appointed to the federal bench.
Nevertheless, Qureshi is the first Muslim attorney nominated to the federal bench in a nation where Muslims make up about 1 percent of the total population. Moreover, while Qureshi’s nomination is historic, there is no guarantee that he will be confirmed. President Obama’s term will draw to a close soon. Judicial confirmations slowed to a crawl the moment Republicans regained the Senate last year. And, if Qureshi is not confirmed in the waning months of Obama’s presidency, the nominee’s fate will rest upon whether the next president is also inclined to name him to a federal court.