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    Nation's first Muslim American Federal Judge on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

    Nation’s first Muslim American Federal Judge on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

    Photo By Billie Suttles | United States District Judge for the District of New Jersey (and Army JAG Corps alum)...... read more read more



    Story by Jane Lee 

    The Judge Advocate General's Legal Center and School

    CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – A trailblazer returned to his regimental home to deliver the third annual Gray & Propp-Fowle Lecture on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). The Honorable Zahid N. Quraishi is a graduate of the 161st Officer Basic Course (OBC). In June 2021, the former judge advocate became the nation’s first Muslim American Article III Judge when he was confirmed as United States District Judge for the District of New Jersey. The son of Pakistani immigrants shared his life and experiences with The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School (TJAGLCS) faculty, staff and students on March 4.

    The Rutgers Law School alum left his lucrative private law practice to join the Army after the September 11th attacks. It was not an easy decision. “I wrestled with the idea that someone like me could serve, that I could contribute to the war effort, that I could leave my comfortable life,” confessed Quraishi. “I was 27 years old working behind a desk. I had no physical training regimen. I did not come from a military background.”

    More than that was his very real fear of just how he would be accepted. Fears exacerbated when Sgt. Hasan Akbar killed two fellow American Soldiers and wounded 14 others in Kuwait on March 23, 2003. “I would be lying to you if I didn’t say it caused me to question whether I would ever be accepted in uniform,” said Quraishi. “Now that someone with a name like mine, a face like mine committed such a traitorous act … just a few months before I would enter OBC.

    “My time in the JAG (Judge Advocate General’s) Corps was one of the most positive experiences in my life. It has profoundly influenced me, both personally and professionally. When I think of those early concerns, those fears and insecurities, nothing can be further from the truth.”

    Quraishi’s four years of service had an enduring impact, even though in the beginning he had absolutely no clue what he was doing. “For those of us who were direct commissionees, our friends with prior military experience helped us to get through,” said Quraishi. “I had very close friends in OBC and we were inseparable. This school was my first introduction to the JAG Corps. I knew after I graduated that I was going to be okay, that I was going to be more than okay, that I would be set up for success.”

    One of those close friends, Grady Leupold, was recently appointed U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Western District of Washington. “The fact that 20 years later, we would all be traveling across the country to support a fellow judge advocate who we met in OBC and never served with again … that says a lot about our experience. What it meant to us at the beginning of our career.”

    For his first assignment, Quraishi pcs’d to Germany to join the 1st Infantry Division. He volunteered for the Big Red One fully knowing he would be deployed soon. He ended up serving two tours in Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, after voluntarily extending to deploy the second time. “I stand here before you now, 20 some years after graduating from this JAG school as a testament to how welcome I felt,” Quraishi told the TJAGLCS audience. “There was no DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) program. I’m not sure that was even a concept back then. What did exist at least for me, was a leadership ahead of its time.”

    Quraishi’s leadership at the Big Red One in 2004 included a then Lt. Col. Stuart Risch, an officer who would eventually become the 41st Judge Advocate General of the United States Army. “If I had to capture what was common among the strong leaders that I encountered in the JAG Corps and the Big Red One, they put their men and women first,” said Quraishi. “That’s how simply I will explain that leadership style. Whether that was the goal, whether that was the price of being a leader, they always put their people first.”

    It's a quality Quraishi has strived to implement throughout his groundbreaking career. “I never want to take for granted those types of lessons I learned from the JAG Corps. Whether I was at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Department of Homeland Security, partner at a law firm, now a federal judge; I will put my people first,” said Quraishi. “I think back to the leaders I had. I would walk through fire for them. I have folks now who will walk through fire for me.”

    That steadfast loyalty would prove significant once again when the Biden administration nominated Quraishi to become the first Muslim American federal judge in U.S. history. “Lt. Gen. Risch sent a letter to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. I served four years in the JAG Corps, only half was under him,” explained Quraishi. “Twenty years later, Lt. Gen Risch is saying he’s one of us.

    “Two star [at the time] generals don’t write letters on behalf of nominees. That means the world to me that the JAG Corps continues to support me even though I hadn’t stayed on for my entire career.”

    Quraishi was confirmed to the lifetime appointment by a bi-partisan vote of 81-16. He had received the most support among a diverse slate of judicial nominations that included three African American women tapped for Circuit Court vacancies; the first Asian American Pacific Islander woman to ever serve on the U.S. District Court for the District of D.C.; and the first woman of color to ever serve as a federal judge for the District of Maryland.

    “Even today as I serve on my court, my four years in the JAG Corps has impacted me to such a degree that 20 years later I’m trying to build a veterans program,” said Quraishi. “There are only a few veterans [treatment] courts in the entire country. We have to do more than just prosecute and sentence. There are veterans in my home state who need help and services.

    “My hope for all of you whether you serve four years or 25 is that you come to realize how special your service is. Make the best of it. Embrace it. Be proud of it. Speak loudly of it and don’t let anyone take away its meaning for you.”

    The Gray & Propp-Fowle Lecture is named after retired Maj. Gen. Kenneth Gray, the first black General Officer in the U.S. Army JAG Corps, and the late Lt. Col. Phyllis Propp-Fowle, the first female Judge Advocate in the Army.



    Date Taken: 03.04.2024
    Date Posted: 03.07.2024 09:28
    Story ID: 465558

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