Black GOP-Appointed Former Judge Steps In To Defend Biden’s Muslim Court Pick

WASHINGTON ― A Black former U.S. appeals court judge appointed by President George W. Bush privately reached out to Senate leaders this month to urge them to confirm President Joe Biden’s Muslim judicial pick Adeel Mangi, saying he is “deeply disturbed” by the GOP’s ugly and baseless attacks on him.

In a letter obtained by HuffPost and sent last week to Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), former federal judge Timothy Lewis said he felt compelled to reach out because of how badly Mangi has been treated in his confirmation process compared to what Lewis experienced in his.

“I have been deeply disturbed by the unfounded and disturbing attacks against Adeel Mangi, and I strongly support his nomination,” said Lewis.

“This is a nominee who should — and ordinarily would — have widespread bipartisan support,” he said. “Instead, he is being subjected to attacks against his character. His accusers claim he supports terrorism and is anti-Semitic. Those allegations are absolutely unfounded.”

The letter comes as Democratic support for Mangi — who would be the first-ever Muslim appeals court judge if confirmed — appears to be shaky amid a wave of misleading and Islamophobic attacks from Republicans.

Some Senate Democratic aides told HuffPost on Friday they weren’t sure if he had the votes to get confirmed.

“I think it will be very tough at this point,” one aide, who requested anonymity to speak frankly about intra-party disputes, conceded.

Lewis was a judge for seven years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, the same court to which Mangi has been nominated. Like Mangi, he was a judicial nominee in a presidential election year, in 1992. And like Mangi, he was a historic pick. He was one of two Black judges nominated to an appeals court by Bush. The other was then-D.C. Circuit nominee Clarence Thomas.

Mangi is a 23-year civil litigator based in New Jersey. He was unanimously rated well-qualified by the American Bar Association and has been praised by a number of organizations, including the AFL-CIO, the Coalition of Underrepresented Law Enforcement Associations and more than a dozen Jewish groups, for both his legal and pro-bono work.

But for months, Mangi has been the target of blatantly Islamophobic attacks by Republican senators and right-wing groups like the Judicial Crisis Network. This group has run ads accusing Mangi of being a “radical” and an “antisemite,” and of being involved in an organization’s efforts to teach students “to hate Israel, to hate America and to support global terrorism.” None of this is true.

“I cannot help but contrast Mr. Mangi’s experience as a nominee with my own,” Lewis said in his letter to Senate leaders. ”I was treated with respect not just by senators of the party of the president who nominated me, but also by the Democratic senators who held the majority. I was confirmed by unanimous consent less than a month before Election Day.”

Lewis warned that a Senate rejection of Mangi would have a “toxic long-term impact on the entire federal judiciary.” He suggested that people from underrepresented communities “are likely to think twice” about accepting a judicial nomination if they believe they will be unfairly attacked and stereotyped in the way that Mangi has been.

“It does not have to be this way,” he said.

You can read Lewis’ full letter here:

Judge Timothy Lewis letter on Adeel Mangi by jen_bendery on Scribd

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Conservatives’ efforts to cast Mangi as antisemitic seemed to lose traction after Jewish groups rose up in his defense, so they’ve pivoted to a new attack: painting him as an enemy of law enforcement. Judicial Crisis Network president Carrie Severino has been aggressively pushing a narrative that Mangi supports an “anti-law enforcement group,” the Alliance of Families for Justice, on whose advisory board he has served since 2019.

Severino and other Republicans are accusing Mangi of supporting the killing of police officers because Alliance of Families for Justice in 2021 advocated for the parole of aging Black Panther members like Mumia Abu-Jamal, who caught COVID-19 in prison and was at risk of dying. Abu-Jamal has been in prison since 1981 after being convicted of killing a police officer. (His conviction has been the subject of decades of scrutiny, and groups like Amnesty International have long argued he never got a fair trial and deserves a new one.)

The false narrative about Mangi has gotten so twisted that it bears no resemblance to what this organization does or what his connection is to it. AFJ is a nonprofit that offers counseling services to family members of people who have been incarcerated. It provides services like arranging care packages, making sure people have adequate visitation and providing housing reentry or legal support when people get out.

Mangi’s connection to it is very loose. In 2020, his law firm, Patterson Belknap, took on a wrongful death case referred by AFJ that involved a mentally ill inmate who was killed by a correctional officer. Mangi took the lead in the case and won, earning the inmate’s family the largest settlement in New York state history.

Given the huge success of this case, AFJ asked Mangi to join its advisory board. He joined, but never took another case from the group.

This is what has been distorted into accusations that Mangi supports cop-killers. GOP operatives have been lobbying law enforcement groups to publicly oppose Mangi on these grounds. Republicans like Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas), who was already incredibly offensive in his treatment of Mangi in his nomination hearing, are now amplifying these attacks.

But Cruz and other Senate Republicans are hoping nobody notices the hypocrisy in what they’re doing: virtually all of them voted ― twice ― to confirm judges appointed by President Donald Trump who previously did legal work directly on behalf of people convicted of killing police officers.

Senate Republicans overwhelmingly voted in 2018 to confirm Ryan Nelson to his current seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Nelson worked on a case, Dean v. United States, and said in his Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire that it was an “honor” to represent Marthell Dean in two consolidated appeals. Dean was convicted of murdering D.C. police officer Brian Gibson as Gibson sat in his patrol car.

Senate Republicans also overwhelmingly voted in 2019 to confirm Anuraag Singhal to his current seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Singhal represented Jeffrey Lee Weaver, who was charged with murdering Fort Lauderdale police officer Bryant Peney. News coverage of this case described Singhal crying as he argued in favor of life imprisonment for Weaver, rather than the death sentence.

“I hope you can find some love in your heart for Jeff Weaver,” Singhal said with tears in his eyes, “and I hope you’ll let him die in prison.”

Lewis’ decision to weigh in on Mangi’s nomination appears to be in response to the egregious distortions of his record. It’s rare for federal judges, current or former, to get involved in another judicial nominee’s confirmation process.

He said as much in his letter to Schumer and McConnell: “Mr. Mangi bears no resemblance whatsoever to the caricature being painted of him in some quarters.”

“Unfortunately, there is a constituency in this current politicized environment for such a smear campaign directed at someone who would become the first Muslim American ever to serve on a federal appellate court,” Lewis said. “But this is not a constituency whose fears and ignorance any United States senator should entertain, let alone advance.”

President Joe Biden's judicial nominee Adeel Mangi, shown here in his Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in December 2023.

President Joe Biden’s judicial nominee Adeel Mangi, shown here in his Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in December 2023. C-Span

For the moment, Mangi’s nomination may be in trouble. But the White House is still strongly supporting him and lobbying senators to vote for him.

“President Biden is proud to have chosen Adeel Mangi, an extraordinarily qualified nominee who is devoted to the rule of law, lived the American dream through hard work, proven his integrity, and would make history on the bench,” White House spokesperson Andrew Bates told HuffPost in a statement.

“Mr. Mangi was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the White House continues to fight for his confirmation and to repudiate the vicious hate and bigotry with which he has been targeted because of his Muslim faith,” Bates said. “Senior staff are calling members on his behalf every day, and no senator should cave to hateful, undignified lies.”

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who recommended Mangi to the White House for this court seat, said he’s prepared to fight to get Mangi’s nomination across the finish line.

“Adeel Mangi is an exceptional nominee. He is a person of integrity and deep conviction with an unflinching commitment to fairness and equality,” he told HuffPost in a statement.

“Since his nomination, Adeel Mangi has been subjected to an outrageous and unrelenting campaign of ugly, untrue Islamophobic smears,” Booker said. “I know the White House, Senate Democratic leaders, and I stand behind Adeel Mangi 100 percent and look forward to the confirmation of America’s first Muslim federal appeals court judge.”


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