Nusrat Jahan Choudhury (left), a civil rights lawyer of Bangladeshi descent, would serve in a federal district court in New York state if her nomination is confirmed [File: Rick Bowmer/AP Photo]
US President Joe Biden has nominated the first Muslim-American woman to be a judge on a federal court in the United States, the White House said on Wednesday, as it announced a list of diverse judicial nominees.
If confirmed by the US Senate, Nusrat Jahan Choudhury, a civil rights lawyer of Bangladeshi descent, would serve in a federal district court in New York state.
“A nominee who would be the first Bangladeshi-American, the first Muslim-American woman, and only the second Muslim-American person to serve as a federal judge,” the White House said in a statement on Wednesday, referring to Choudhury.
Choudhury currently serves as the legal director of the Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a civil rights advocacy group. She previously worked in various capacities at the organization, including as deputy director of the ACLU’s racial justice program in New York.
She has been involved in numerous civil rights cases, including lawsuits challenging the federal government’s No Fly List and the New York Police Department’s surveillance of the city’s Muslim community.
In September 2021, Democratic Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer formally recommended Choudhury to serve on the federal bench in New York, calling her an “expert in civil rights and liberties”.
Muslim Advocates, a Muslim-American advocacy group, had urged Schumer and his fellow New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to push for Choudhury’s nomination earlier that year.
On Wednesday, the group thanked Biden and Schumer for “making this historic nomination happen.”
“At a time when inequalities in the justice system are front and center, Choudhury, who dedicated her career to protecting the civil rights of Muslims and other marginalized communities, would bring legitimacy to the judiciary by pushing it towards justice,” Muslim Advocates said in a statement.
“And at a time when hate and division are driving us apart, Choudhury would serve as an inspiration as the first Muslim woman, first Bangladeshi-American and second-ever American Muslim to serve as a Senate-confirmed federal judge.”
The ACLU of Illinois also described Choudhury’s nomination as “historic”, but noted that the organization does not formally endorse judicial or political nominees.
“During her tenure as legal director in Illinois, [Choudhury] has among other things led our legal team in efforts to improve policing in Chicago, protect medically-vulnerable persons detained on immigration charges during the COVID pandemic in Illinois county jails, and challenged unfair practices that drive Chicago residents into bankruptcy to pay fines and fees,” ACLU of Illinois Executive Director Colleen Connell said in a statement.
US federal courts oversee legal proceedings for federal offenses and civil lawsuits. They also have the ability to judicially review and block state and federal laws that they deem to be in violation of the US Constitution.
Nusrat Jahan Choudhury currently serves as legal director of the Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union [Courtesy ACLU of Illinois]
All US federal cases start in district courts, and they can be appealed to US appellate courts. The US Supreme Court – the top court in the country – is the third and final level of appeal in the federal judicial system.
The president appoints all federal judges, but nominees need to be confirmed by a simple majority in the Senate.
On Wednesday, the White House highlighted the diversity of Biden’s judicial nominees, including Arianna Freeman, a federal public defender who would serve as the first African-American woman on the Philadelphia-based Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
If confirmed, Choudhury will become the second-ever Muslim US federal judge, after the Senate approved the nomination of Zahid N Quraishi to serve as a district court judge in New Jersey last year.