Past thirty day period, the U.S. Senate confirmed Zahid Quraishi as the very first Muslim American federal choose in U.S. background.

The son of Pakistani immigrants, Quraishi earned his legislation diploma from Rutgers Law Faculty, and subsequently served in the armed forces, with the U.S. Section of Homeland Protection and labored at the U.S. Attorney’s Business in New Jersey. In 2019, he was appointed as a U.S. justice of the peace decide, becoming the initially Asian American to provide on the federal bench in New Jersey.

Throughout his confirmation listening to, Quraishi’s religion identity attracted exclusive inquiry and constitutional scrutiny. Especially, Illinois Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin, chairperson of the Judiciary Committee, questioned Quraishi about the extent of his understanding of Shariah, even though noting his embarrassment with the issue. When normally associated with religious extremism—manifested in compelled conversions, oppressed females, extrajudicial violence—most Muslim Individuals regard it merely as Divine guidance advertising and marketing excellent will, morality and humanitarianism, such as universal virtues these kinds of as honesty, forgiveness and charitable providing.

In response to the senator’s problem, Judge Quraishi responded that he understood nothing about it.


To be certain, Muslim Us residents are religiously assorted. Whereas some notice orthodox Islamic faith methods, many others do not. Irrespective, pursuant to constitutional protections, one’s religion techniques ought to not mirror upon his or her qualifications for a judicial appointment nor provide as a barrier to general public service.

No Spiritual Test Clause

The 1st Modification famously is composed of two clauses that, in the cumulative, characterize a national motivation to spiritual liberty. Although the Establishment Clause prohibits the federal government from imposing spiritual beliefs and tactics, the No cost Work out Clause helps prevent interference with it.

In addition, Report VI of the Structure mentions religion in the spirit of upholding religious conscience. This lesser-identified provision, the No Religious Take a look at Clause, prohibits the imposition of ecclesiastical necessities to qualify for community business. In carrying out so, the Founding Fathers moved away from a long-standing sort of religious discrimination popular in England and the first colonies that barred associates of certain faith communities from general public provider. The U.S. Supreme Courtroom circumstance, Torcaso v. Watkins, made a decision in 1961, may possibly confirm instructive.

The governor of Maryland appointed Roy Torcaso as a notary public, but he was denied his fee mainly because he refused to affirm his perception in the “existence in God,” as the condition structure essential. Torcaso sued in condition court docket and dropped. So, he appealed, and the state’s best court docket affirmed the reduce court’s results. He then appealed to the significant court detailing, “The issue at issue is not whether or not I consider in a supreme currently being, but no matter if the point out has a appropriate to inquire into my beliefs.”

Finally, the Supreme Court uncovered that necessitating an oath to affirm existence in perception in God in get to hold community business office was a spiritual test, and as this kind of, unconstitutional. The court docket stated that the Maryland need place the point out on one side of a certain established of believers in violation of the Establishment Clause.

Judicial Nominations

Considerably, some legal scholars have debated whether—and to what extent—the No Spiritual Check Clause applies to other service contexts. This is particularly so in the context of nominations to the federal judiciary where by members of Congress serve as gatekeepers for the duration of affirmation hearings. Although satisfying their gatekeeping function, formal inquiry into the theology, rather than ideology or judicial record, of a disfavored spiritual minority prospect could depict this kind of a services barrier.

Certainly, Choose Quraishi may be the 1st Muslim American successfully appointed to the federal judiciary, but he is rarely the to start with to expertise official scrutiny owing to his religious beliefs. In the mid-19th century, for instance, Roger Brooke Taney faced sizeable criticism when he was nominated as main justice of the Supreme Court since he was Catholic. Furthermore, President Herbert Hoover expressed worry in excess of Benjamin Cardozo, the next Jewish person to sit on the high court docket. Even further, President Richard M. Nixon recommended that the late Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist (a Lutheran) adjust his religion and consider to get baptized.

Engy Abdelkader headshotEngy Abdelkader.

Regarding the judicial confirmation procedures of religious minorities, the expertise of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. is noteworthy. Robert’s Catholic religion captivated individual scrutiny in relation to his predicted opposition to abortion. For instance, in the course of meetings with senators who would vote on his nomination, Sen. Durbin questioned what he would do if confronted with a conflict in between his religion and the legislation.

In response to the Roberts nomination, Northwestern Pritzker University of Regulation professor Stephen Presser and College of Notre Dame Law School professor Charles Rice argued the Religious Test Clause “reflects the belief of the framers that one’s religion is a matter concerning one’s God and one’s self, and must not engage in a position in pinpointing suitability for public business office.” They managed suggesting that perception in a specific religion “is a disqualification for business would be to embrace, at least analogously, the evil sought to be prevented by the Constitutional prohibition of spiritual exams.”

Arguably, it is distinct that the Constitution, vis-a-vis the No Spiritual Test Clause, sought to reduce religious barriers to keeping public workplace. Not only do this kind of limitations violate the Institution Clause as the Torcaso court illuminated, they also have a chilling outcome on the cost-free exercising of religion in spite of First Amendment protections. A budding lawyer, as perfectly as lawmakers, watching the Quraishi affirmation listening to may possibly study many unlucky lessons that operate counter to our values and ideals. Certainly, the ability to inquire into a nominee’s theological beliefs places an added stress on associates of disfavored religious communities who are matter to associated official scrutiny though stigmatizing that team. The fundamental assumption is that a choose from a disfavored religion team would face an inherent conflict in the devoted interpretation of the legislation even though other individuals would not. Even though Quraishi is not the past Muslim American, or member of a minority religious community, to be nominated and correctly confirmed to the federal judiciary, let us hope it is the previous time this kind of barriers are entertained.

Engy Abdelkader chairs the Legal rights of Immigrants Committee with the ABA Segment of Civil Rights and Social Justice and enjoys a presidential appointment to the ABA Coalition on Racial and Ethnic Justice. She teaches legislation at Mitchell Hamline School of Legislation and linked classes at Rutgers University.