The U.S. Senate ushered in a historic first with a bipartisan vote confirming a Muslim judge to the federal bench on Thursday.
Zahid Quraishi was approved to serve in the U.S. District Court in New Jersey by an overwhelming 81-16 majority in the chamber, ABC News reported.
Quraishi was one of President Joe Biden’s initial 11 nominees to the federal judiciary in March and signaled the new administration’s commitment to diversity.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) hailed Quraishi’s confirmation as a historic moment, noting that he “will be the first American Muslim in United States history to serve as an Article III federal judge.”
Schumer went on to stress the importance of expanding “not only demographic diversity but professional diversity.”
Quraishi is the son of Pakistani immigrants and served as a U.S. magistrate judge before his confirmation to the new post. Prior to that, he worked as a prosecutor in New Jersey and at the law firm of Riker Danzig.
He also served as a military officer in Iraq and as a top counsel for the Department of Homeland Security under former President George W. Bush. His time in the Bush administration concerned some progressive groups including the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Nevertheless, most Democrats hailed his confirmation as a step forward. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) called him “an excellent addition to the court.”
For his part, Qurashi has also expressed the prevailing sentiment that his confirmation was a monumental moment in the federal court system.
“I would prefer to be the hundredth, if not the thousandth,” he said shortly after his nomination in March. “I understand what it means to the community.”
The Trump administration is already being defined in part by its ability to shift the federal bench to the right on the strength of some 230 appointments, not to mention three U.S. Supreme Court picks. Schumer is clearly hoping to offset that advantage as much as possible, vowing to “swiftly and consistently confirm” Biden’s picks, “bringing balance, experience, and diversity back to the judiciary.”
Some on the left have advocated for even more drastic measures, including expanding the size of the Supreme Court in order to restore “balance.” As it stands, there are about 80 vacancies to be filled in the federal court system.