Religion

Biden’s Muslim American judicial nominee threatened by smear campaign

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(RNS) — Late last year, President Biden nominated the first Muslim American to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals. But in the wake of Israel’s war on Gaza, that nomination may now be in jeopardy.

Biden’s pick, Adeel Abdullah Mangi, has a distinguished two-decade career as a corporate litigator based in New Jersey. Born in Pakistan and educated at Oxford and Harvard, he has also done pro bono legal work focused on fighting for religious liberty.

But when Mangi, 47, went up to Congress for a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in December, he was not grilled about his judicial philosophy but about his views on terrorism and Jews.

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz asked him, “Do you condemn the atrocities of Hamas terrorists?” Another suggested he was antisemitic. Mangi was even asked: “Do you celebrate the anniversary of 9/11 in your home?”

To many Muslims and others, the questions on the part of Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee were unvarnished examples of Islamophobia.

“I think in the climate we are in post October 7th, some members want to equate Muslims with Hamas or with terror,” said Wael Alzayat, CEO of Emgage Action, an organization that seeks to empower Muslim Americans. “This is an option for them to kind of use that as a cover to deny a perfectly qualified candidate.”

Emgage is encouraging Muslims to contact their senators and urge them to confirm Mangi. More than 800 letters have so far been sent. 

Biden nominated Mangi in November to the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals. His nomination is part of the administration’s priority to bring greater diversity to the federal bench. Mangi now awaits a vote of the entire Senate for a lifetime appointment to the bench.

There are only two Muslim Americans, both nominated by President Biden, serving on federal district courts and none on the appellate court. With an estimated 3.5 million Muslim Americans and 870 federal judgeships, Muslim Americans are significantly underrepresented on the bench as a proportion of the population.

Mangi, a partner since 2010 at New York City firm Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler, has been involved in numerous high-profile civil rights cases. He won two cases involving two different Muslim communities denied permission to build mosques in Bernards Township and Bayonne — both in New Jersey.

A White House spokesperson described Mangi as an “extraordinarily qualified nominee who is devoted to the rule of law, lived the American dream through hard work, proven his integrity, and would make history on the bench.”

Two Jewish organizations — the Anti-Defamation League and National Council of Jewish Women — both championed Mangi. In a January statement, the ADL said, “… berating the first American Muslim federal appellate judicial nominee with endless questions that appear to have been motivated by bias towards his religion is profoundly wrong.”

Still, it appears Mangi may not have enough support from Democrats on the committee.

A right-wing dark money group has spent at least $50,000 on digital ads blasting “antisemite Adeel Mangi.” The ads encourage moderate Democratic Senators to “vote NO on giving antisemite Adeel Mangi a lifetime position in our courts.”

That pressure may be working. CNN reported last week that some Democratic senators have warned the White House “that there does not appear to be enough votes in the Senate” to confirm Mangi.

“We are worried that there may be senators who are questioning their vote over spurious allegations and hateful smear campaigns,” said Arsalan Suleman, a lawyer and cofounder of America Indivisible, a nonprofit organization addressing anti-Muslim and other forms of bigotry. “I think there is no doubt that he is a supremely qualified candidate for the bench and should be confirmed, and absent this discriminatory treatment he’s been receiving, I’m sure he would have been confirmed already.”

America Indivisible and two Muslim American bar associations recently created the Muslim American Judicial Advisory Council to promote the nomination of more Muslim American candidates. Three, including Mangi, are now awaiting confirmation to federal judgeships.

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