Abid Qureshi, a partner at Latham & Watkins and the global chairman of the firm’s pro bono practice, is being vetted by the White House for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, according to four sources familiar with the process.
Qureshi has spent his career at Latham, making partner in 2006 and becoming head of the pro bono committee in 2012. The pro bono post ”seems like a culmination of my entire time at Latham & Watkins,” he told The National Law Journal in 2012, when he was recognized as a legal “champion” for his pro bono work. His clients have included prisoners, foreign-educated physical therapists and the National Organization of Concerned Black Men.
Qureshi was born in Pakistan. That background and some of his former clients could make him a lightning-rod in a political season where presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has called for a ban on Muslims entering the country.
Qureshi has represented a Saudi-funded Islamic school in a labor dispute and the California-based civil rights group Muslim Advocates in a First Amendment case. A White House spokesman declined to comment. Qureshi did not respond to requests for comment.
Qureshi earned his bachelor’s degree in 1993 from Cornell University and his law degree in 1997 from Harvard Law School. If confirmed, he would fill the seat left by U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer, who took senior status in May.
Two other lawyers considered for Collyer’s seat were Stevan Bunnell, general counsel of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and Erica Williams, who works in the Office of the White House Counsel, according to sources familiar with the process.
Two nominees for the D.C. federal district court are already awaiting confirmation by the U.S. Senate. D.C. Superior Court Judges Todd Edelman and Florence Pan were nominated in April and have yet to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Their hearings have not been scheduled.
The Senate will recess on July 15 and return on September 6.
Qureshi is a past co-chair of the firm’s litigation and trial department. Court records show that he is actively involved in litigation in federal courts across the country. His current cases include defending student loan servicing company Navient against securities fraud claims and representing the head of a hospital management company accused of fraud. He counts Walgreen Co. and the Hospital Corporation of America among past clients.
Qureshi and a team from Latham represented the Islamic Saudi Academy, a k-12 private school with ties to the Saudi Arabian government, before the National Labor Relations Board. The school has a stated mission of providing an education “rooted in the Islamic faith” to young people of Saudi Arabia residing in the United States, especially children of Saudi diplomats and government officials.
In October, the regional director of the NLRB’s Baltimore office dismissed the claims, embracing Latham’s argument that any attempt by the NLRB to assert jurisdiction over the academy’s firing of a teacher would encroach on religious freedom.,
On the pro bono side, Qureshi represents a federal inmate suing prison guards for alleged physical abuse.
And last year, he and Latham worked with Muslim Advocates, an Oakland, California-based legal advocacy group, to represent a production company seeking to run ads in the New York public transit system for a documentary film about Muslim comedians called “The Muslims are Coming!”
U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon of the Southern District of New York in October ordered the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to run the ads, citing the First Amendment.
Trump has faced a backlash in recent weeks for his remarks that a judge’s personal background—including ethnicity or religion—could create conflicts of interest. Qureshi’s religion could not be ascertained. Federal court nominees do not report their religious affiliation on public questionnaires submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The Constitution prohibits a religious litmus test for potential nominees, although legal scholars debate the scope of that language.
A spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations said he was not aware of any Muslim judges at the federal level, although there is no official tracking by the federal judiciary of judges’ religion. There are a handful of Muslim judges serving on state courts, according to CAIR.
If confirmed, Qureshi would join a bench that has grown more diverse under the Obama administration in terms of race, gender and ethnicity. Nine of the 15 active judges have been confirmed since Obama took office, and a 10th Obama appointee, Robert Wilkins, was elevated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Obama’s appointees to the D.C. court include two judges born outside of the United States—U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta, who was born in India, and U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who was born in Jamaica.
Contact Zoe Tillman at email@example.com. On Twitter: @zoetillman