Home News Opposition to Muslim Judicial Nominee Leaves Biden With a Tough Choice

Opposition to Muslim Judicial Nominee Leaves Biden With a Tough Choice

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Opposition to Muslim Judicial Nominee Leaves Biden With a Tough Choice

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The nomination of the first Muslim American to a federal appeals court judgeship is in deep trouble in the Senate, leaving President Biden with a painful choice between withdrawing the name of Adeel Mangi or trying to overcome the opposition at the risk of losing the chance to fill the crucial post before the November elections.

Three Democrats have said they intend to oppose the confirmation of Mr. Mangi to the Philadelphia-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in response to objections from local law enforcement groups. He has also faced what his backers label an unfounded bigoted assault from Republicans who have accused him of antisemitism and sympathy with terrorists.

If Republicans remain united against him, as expected, and the Democrats cannot be persuaded to change their position, Mr. Mangi would lack the votes to be confirmed.

The showdown is a new obstacle for the Biden administration and Senate Democrats as they try to fill as many federal court openings as they can before November. It has also angered Democrats who believe Mr. Mangi, a litigator from New Jersey and partner in a New York law firm, has been subjected to a baseless and ugly assault by Republicans because of his religion.

“This has been the most brutal attack I have ever seen on anyone — and that is saying something,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He dismissed any notion of antisemitism on the part of Mr. Mangi, saying, “There is no basis whatsoever for even suggesting he has that point of view.”

The seat that Mr. Mangi was nominated for is notable since the court, which hears matters from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and the Virgin Islands, is currently divided 7-6 in favor of judges nominated by Republican presidents. Mr. Biden could even the court’s makeup by filling the vacancy.

The White House announced the selection of Mr. Mangi in November and his nomination was approved by the Judiciary Committee in January on a party-line vote after a brutal December hearing. During that session, Mr. Mangi faced aggressive questioning by Republicans about his role on an advisory panel to the Rutgers University Center for Security, Race and Rights, on whether he considered Israel a colonial occupier and how he viewed the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas. Mr. Mangi denounced the attack.

Leading civil rights and advocacy groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, rallied to Mr. Mangi’s defense, calling the Republican questioning offensive.

“Just as associating Jewish Americans with certain views or beliefs regarding Israeli government actions would be deemed antisemitic, 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,” the A.D.L. said in a statement.

Nevada’s two Democratic senators, Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, were dismissive of the antisemitism claims but have said that they would oppose the nomination based on objections raised by local law enforcement groups. A third Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, recently told Politico that he would not support any judicial nominee who did not have at least minimal Republican support.

The Nevada Democrats both said they were troubled by Mr. Mangi’s membership on the advisory panel of the Alliance of Families for Justice, a support group for family members of incarcerated people that has called for the release of some individuals convicted of killing police officers. Democrats say his association with the group was very tenuous, but that has not alleviated the two senators’ concerns.

“This organization has sponsored a fellowship in the name of Kathy Boudin, a member of the domestic terrorist organization Weather Underground, and advocated for the release of individuals convicted of killing police officers,” Ms. Cortez Masto said in a statement. “I cannot support this nominee.” Ms. Rosen, who faces a tough re-election fight this year, expressed a similar view, and Democratic officials said it is possible that other Democrats oppose Mr. Mangi but have not gone public with their positions.

Despite the opposition, the Biden administration says it is committed to Mr. Mangi’s nomination and has highlighted support for him from rights groups as well as law enforcement organizations.

“Mr. Mangi, who has lived the American dream and proven his integrity, is being targeted by a malicious and debunked smear campaign solely because he would make history as the first Muslim to serve as a federal appellate judge,” said Andrew Bates, a White House spokesman. “The Senate should side with the qualities that make America exceptional — which Mr. Mangi embodies — not the hateful forces trying to force America into the past.”

Republicans have stood by their criticism and accused Democrats of trying to install “radicals” to lifetime appointments on the bench.

“The White House and Senate Democrats don’t want to defend Mr. Mangi on the merits of his record, so they instead accuse his critics of Islamophobia,” Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas and a main detractor of Mr. Mangi, wrote in a recent letter to the editor in The New York Times. “That is a shameful attack.”

The struggle over the nomination comes as the White House and Senate Democrats are intent on diversifying the federal courts. They are also trying to keep pace with the Trump administration’s success in installing federal judges.

The Trump White House won the confirmation of 234 people to the federal bench, including three Supreme Court justices. At this point in his tenure, former President Donald J. Trump had installed 193 judges on the bench, compared to 190 currently for Mr. Biden. With the Senate set to be out for extended periods later this year for campaign activities, Democrats can afford little slippage if the Biden administration wants to keep up.

If the Mangi nomination was pulled within the next few months, time would most likely remain to identify, nominate and confirm another candidate for the appeals court based on past timelines, particularly in a state represented by two Democratic senators.

Mr. Durbin said his preference would be to provide time for the political atmosphere to “cool down” and allow a less charged debate over the nomination.

“As long as he is strong enough to withstand this kind of attack,” Mr. Durbin said, “I would beg him not to give up.”

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