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Bangladeshi-American a step from becoming first Muslim woman on US Federal bench

25th Feb 2022
Bangladeshi-American a step from becoming first Muslim woman on US Federal bench

Elham Asaad Buaras

US President Joe Biden has nominated a Bangladeshi-American civil rights lawyer to serve as the country’s first Muslim female federal judge on January 19.

If confirmed as district judge for the Eastern District of New York, Nusrat Jahan Choudhury would become just the second Muslim judge, as well as the first Bangladeshi-American, to sit on a federal bench in the US.

The 46-year-old emerged as the top choice among Muslim American advocates last summer for the federal court post vacated by Judge Joseph F Bianco, who was appointed as a Court of Appeals judge on May 17, 2019.

Following a recommendation by Muslim Advocates, a civil rights organization, she was endorsed as a civil rights expert by Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer.

Muslim Advocates wrote to Schumer and New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in July, highlighting Choudhury’s “stellar reputation” for advancing the rights of minority communities.

Choudhury will next face a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in a process Muslim Advocates say “has not been kind to American Muslims.”

In a statement to The Muslim News, Muslim Advocates said they “will do everything we can to reach out to members of the committee and make sure that they treat Choudhury fairly and avoid using anti-Muslim tropes in their questions.”

Muslim Advocates Co-Interim Executive Directors, Asifa Quraishi-Landes and Farah Brelvi, called her nomination “momentous” as it comes “at a time when inequalities in the justice system are front and centre”.

They added that her credentials in “protecting the civil rights of Muslims and other marginalised communities, would bring legitimacy to the judiciary by pushing it towards justice.

“And at a time when hate and division are driving us apart, Choudhury would serve as an inspiration as the first Muslim woman, the first Bangladeshi-American, and second ever American Muslim to serve as a Senate-confirmed Federal judge.”

Choudhury, a graduate of Columbia, Princeton and Yale Law School, held multiple senior roles at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), including serving as Deputy Director of the national ACLU Racial Justice Program, a staff attorney in the ACLU National Security Project, and a Marvin M Karpatkin fellow.

At the ACLU, Choudhury led efforts to challenge racial profiling and unlawful stop-and-search, the targeting of people of colour for surveillance without evidence of wrongdoing, and practises that disproportionately punish people for being poor.

She is currently the Legal Director at the ACLU’s Illinois chapter, where she oversees a team advancing civil rights and civil liberties across Illinois. Choudhury has more than a decade of experience in advancing reform in the criminal legal system and policing.

She has led litigation to protect immigrants from dangerous detention conditions and serves as counsel for community organizations enforcing a federal consent decree to reform Chicago police patterns of excessive force.

Her work against practices that disproportionately punish people for poverty without prior court hearings, consideration of ability to pay, or legal representation changed practices in Georgia, Mississippi, Washington, and South Carolina, and helped secure national guidance from the American Bar Association and other entities to promote fairness and equal treatment of the rich and poor in courts.

Choudhury helped secure the first federal court ruling striking down the US Government’s No- Fly List procedures for violating due process.

She filed litigation to challenge the NYPD’s unjustified and discriminatory profiling of Muslims for surveillance, which resulted in a court-ordered settlement agreement, and to secure public records about the FBI’s racial and ethnic mapping program.

Choudhury clerked for Judge Barrington D. Parker in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and for Judge Denise Cote in the Southern District of New York.

She is a recipient of the South Asian Bar Association of New York Access to Justice Award and the Edward Bullard Distinguished Alumnus Award from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

(Photo credit: ACLU Illinois/Commons)

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