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Obama Nominates Possible First Muslim-American Judge to Federal Court

If confirmed, Abid Riaz Qureshi, who graduated Harvard Law School in 1997, would sit on the District of Columbia’s federal bench.
Barack Obama, Theresa May
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May after their bilateral meeting in Hangzhou in eastern China's Zhejiang province, Sunday, Sept. 4, 2016, alongside the G20.Carolyn Kaster / AP

Muslim-American groups are applauding President Barack Obama’s nomination of a Washington lawyer to serve in U.S. District Court — a move that could make him the first ever Muslim-American federal judge, according to advocates.

If confirmed, Abid Riaz Qureshi would sit on the District of Columbia’s federal bench, the White House announced Tuesday. Qureshi, who graduated Harvard Law School in 1997, is a partner in the D.C. office of Latham & Watkins LLP, specializing in healthcare fraud, securities violations, and cases involving the False Claims Act, according to a White House statement.

“I am confident he will serve the American people with integrity and a steadfast commitment to justice,” Obama said.

Muslim-American organizations hailed the historic announcement.

"The nomination of Abid Qureshi to fill a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia sends a message of inclusion that is welcomed by the American Muslim community and by all Americans who value diversity and mutual respect at a time when some seek division and discord,” Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil rights group, said in a statement.

While Muslim Americans have filled roles as state judges, none have served at the federal trial or appellate levels, according to Muslim Advocates, a national legal advocacy organization.

“A judiciary that reflects the rich diversity of our nation helps ensure the fair and just administration of the law, and it is vital for American Muslims to be included,” Farhana Khera, former counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and executive director of Muslim Advocates, said in a statement. “Mr. Qureshi’s profound commitment to the rule of law and justice for people of all backgrounds makes him an exceptional nominee.”

News of Qureshi’s nomination comes amid a heated presidential race in which Muslims have found themselves the subject of much debate, including GOP nominee Donald Trump’s proposal of a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country.

With a few months left before Obama’s term ends, it remains unclear whether Qureshi’s nomination will make it out of Congress.

Jamie C. Glick, a spokesperson for Latham & Watkins, told NBC News in an email that Qureshi was unavailable for comment. Bill Voge, chair and managing partner of Latham & Watkins, congratulated Qureshi on his nomination and in a statement called him an exceptional litigator.

"He practices with the highest level of integrity and has made significant contributions to our firm, particularly with respect to Latham’s pro bono program which he has led as global chair since 2012,” Voge said.

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