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Adeel Mangi should be the first Muslim federal appellate judge — if Islamophobia doesn’t interfere

I was nominated for the same federal judgeship as Mangi, and I was treated much better, despite my being only the 16th person of color in that role. This is anti-Muslim bias, plain and simple.

Third Circuit judicial nominee Adeel Mangi testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on judicial nominations, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023.
Third Circuit judicial nominee Adeel Mangi testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on judicial nominations, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023.Read moreSipa USA

In the fall of 1992, after serving as a federal district court judge for just over a year, I was nominated by President George H.W. Bush to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which covers Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. This was a high honor, and I looked forward to a confirmation process in which my record would be scrutinized thoroughly, but fairly, by the Senate.

And that’s exactly what occurred.

I was just the 16th person of color appointed to a federal court of appeals, but my racial identity did not appear to be an issue. No one questioned my faith or religious affiliation. Nor was I attacked politically, even though it was an election year. In fact, I was confirmed by unanimous consent less than a month before Election Day.

I can’t help contrasting that experience with what I see today, and I am deeply troubled.

The Senate is currently weighing the nomination of Adeel Mangi to the same Philadelphia-based court I sat on. Mangi is eminently qualified for the position. And if he is confirmed, he would be the first Muslim in our nation’s history to sit on the federal appellate bench.

Mangi is eminently qualified for the position.

Mangi is a highly respected, Oxford- and Harvard-educated attorney. He has handled complex litigation for decades in both federal and state courts. His trial skills received headlines around the country in a trade secrets case when he won the largest jury verdict ($2 billion) in the history of Virginia. His pro bono work has also been outstanding and has made an enormous difference in people’s lives. This is a nominee who should — and ordinarily would — have widespread bipartisan support.

But sadly, Mangi has been made a target of vicious political and personal attacks because he is Muslim.

That hostility was on full display at his confirmation hearing in December. Under the thin pretext of his membership in a Muslim bar association and participation in a Rutgers University program aimed at combating racism and Islamophobia, Mangi was questioned by Senate Republicans about whether he supported an “intifada” in the United States, whether he celebrates 9/11, and worse.

» READ MORE: Islamophobia in Philadelphia is on the rise | Opinion

Despite support by numerous Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, Mangi has been falsely accused of antisemitism and being a supporter of terrorism. One dark-money group has paid for an ad campaign targeting Democratic senators up for reelection, including Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, repeating baseless slurs against Mangi and urging them to vote against Mangi.

This is appalling, and it must stop.

A presidential nomination to the federal bench should be something to aspire to through hard work and a steadfast commitment to the law. But that will no longer be true if the nomination brings with it the threat of personal attacks and defamation, particularly for nominees from underrepresented communities who can instead expect their work and dedication to be repaid with bigoted smears. This will do immeasurable harm to our very worthy goal of diversifying the federal bench, an effort which recognizes that a variety of perspectives and lived experiences among judges improves the quality of their work, and thus the nation’s welfare.

The freedom to exercise one’s religious faith is a fundamental tenet of our democracy. If we believe democracy is on the ballot in November, then we must support all that democracy entails, including freedom of religion — and not use a judicial nominee’s religion against him.

The Senate must disregard the baseless attacks against Mangi and treat him with the same respect I experienced in 1992.

Mangi is exactly the kind of jurist we need. He will be a welcome addition to the Third Circuit and to our nation’s ongoing effort to live up to its promise of equality for all Americans. I have faith that Sen. Casey and a majority of the Senate will agree and vote to confirm Mangi.

Timothy K. Lewis, a former judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, is based in Pittsburgh.