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Leading Democrat urges Biden to appoint Muslim federal judges if elected

Representative Grace Meng's call comes amid Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, whose form of Catholicism has been a point of contention among Democrats
Representative Grace Meng is using her influence among Democrats to push for the appointment of Muslim judges to the federal bench (AFP)

The vice-chair of the Democratic Party is calling on Joe Biden to commit to appointing, for the first time, Muslim judges to the federal bench if he were to win November's presidential election. 

House Representative Grace Meng made the request in a letter to the Biden campaign last week, asking the former vice president and his running mate Kamala Harris to publicly make the commitment.  

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"The judiciary today does not reflect the America it presides over," the letter states. "As of 2020, there is to our knowledge no appointed member of the federal judiciary who identifies as Muslim, nor has there ever been."

The letter was drafted by the Muslim Bar Association of New York and signed by the South Asian Bar Association of New York.

In their letter, Meng and the two organisations highlighted that the roles of Muslims in America pre-date "the founding of the nation", pointing out it is estimated between 10 to 15 percent of those trafficked to the continent for slavery were Muslims. 

Around 3.5 million Americans identify as Muslim, according to a 2018 Pew Research report. 

'Critical to ensuring impartiality'

In her letter, Meng stressed the importance of representation to demonstrate equity in order to successfully battle discrimination.

"Judges who can empathize, at a deeper level, with members of the Muslim American community and other under-represented communities are critical to ensuring impartiality and fairness," the letter said. 

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In the United States, more than 73 percent of sitting federal judges are men and 80 percent are white, according to documentation by the Federal Judicial Center

"Your nominations come at a turning point for our nation, where the dual crisis of a global pandemic and re-awakened demands for racial justice and equity require us to evaluate how our institutions - including the federal judiciary - treat and serve all communities," the letter said. 

The call comes as the nation is focused on the Senate confirmation process for US President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, whose specific form of Catholicism has been a point of contention among Democrats. 

On Monday, Representative Ilhan Omar, one of the first two Muslim women ever elected to Congress, dismissed complaints regarding questions related to Barrett's religion as hypocritical. 

"Let's be clear about this: if a Muslim woman was nominated to SCOTUS you would see Republicans lose their mind about her religious background," Omar said on Twitter. 

In 2016, Trump said he believed Muslim and Hispanic justices should not be eligible to oversee any case involving him because "it's possible" they would be biased against him. 

California State Court of Appeal Judge Halim Dhanidina, appointed by the governor in 2018, is the highest-ranking Muslim justice in the country. Dhanidina became California's first-ever Muslim judge when he joined the state's Superior Court in 2012.