A Democrat Just Caved To The GOP’s Bogus Attacks On Biden’s Muslim Court Pick

WASHINGTON — Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) announced late Tuesday that she won’t support President Joe Biden’s judicial nominee, Adeel Mangi, caving to an ugly campaign waged by the GOP and throwing the fate of his nomination into question.

“I cannot support this nominee,” Cortez Masto said in a statement. “Mr. Mangi’s affiliation with the Alliance of Families for Justice is deeply concerning.”

She said AFJ, a New York City-based nonprofit organization that provides counseling services and legal aid to the family members of people who have been incarcerated, did two things that she can’t get past.

“This organization has sponsored a fellowship in the name of Kathy Boudin, a member of the domestic terrorist organization Weather Underground, and advocated for the release of individuals convicted of killing police officers,” she said.

There are so many problems with this argument that it’s hard to know where to begin.

And the bigger question is whether Cortez Masto, the first Democrat to publicly oppose Mangi, realizes that she is giving in to a monthslong campaign of baseless and Islamophobic attacks on a historic judicial nominee that Republicans simply don’t want confirmed to a pivotal seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit.

You folded like a deck of cards, Cortez Masto.
You folded like a deck of cards, Cortez Masto. Anna Moneymaker via Getty Images

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

Mangi also happens to be Muslim. If confirmed, he’d be the nation’s first-ever Muslim appeals court judge. He would also even out the ideological balance of this appeals court. The 3rd Circuit is currently made up of seven Republican-appointed judges and six Democrat-appointed judges. With Mangi on it, it would be tied.

Chalk it up to plain old Islamophobia or a willingness to say literally anything to prevent Biden from filling this U.S. appeals court seat, but Republicans have made Mangi the target of some of the ugliest and most disingenuous attacks on a judicial nominee in recent years.

GOP Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Tom Cotton (Ark.) and Josh Hawley (Mo.) berated Mangi in his December hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, to the point where the chairman, Sen. Diick Durbiin (D-Ill.), had to bang the gavel and apologize on behalf of the committee. These Republican senators demanded that Mangi share his personal views on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Oct. 7 terrorist attack in Israel and the Israeli-Hamas conflict in general. Mangi repeatedly denounced all terrorism. None of this is normal or appropriate.

Last month, the Judicial Crisis Network, a right-wing dark money group, began running 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.

The ads even used video footage of the second plane crashing into the World Trade Center in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack, overlaid with a headline about Mangi. He had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack or anyone who planned those attacks.

The smears against Mangi have been so disgusting that the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights organization, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, publicly denounced the GOP senators for their treatment of Mangi. So did the Anti-Defamation League, the leading national group focused on combating antisemitism.

In a particularly unusual instance, a Black former U.S. appeals court judge appointed by President George W. Bush also privately reached out to Senate leaders this month to urge them to confirm Mangi, saying he is “deeply disturbed” by how poorly Mangi’s been treated.

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

This gets back to Cortez Masto’s reasoning for opposing Mangi.

She said she wouldn’t support Mangi because of his affiliation with AFJ. But his tie to this group — which, again, is a nonprofit that provides things like care packages and legal help to families of people who have been incarcerated — is extremely loose.

In 2020, Mangi’s 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 led this case and won, earning the inmate’s family the largest settlement in New York state historyAfter that, AFJ asked Mangi to join its advisory board. He joined, but only as a resource in particular areas of expertise. This board does not meet, and Mangi hasn’t taken any other cases from AFJ. He has never had any role in the oversight or governance of AFJ.

Beyond that, Cortez Masto said she’s concerned about this nonprofit’s advocacy for releasing people from prison who were convicted of killing police officers. Her office highlighted that Boudin was a founding member of AFJ.

Except Boudin was not a founding member of AFJ. It’s true that she was involved in AFJ’s work, but this group was singularly founded by its executive director, Soffiyah Elijah. Boudin, a radical criminal justice activist who died in 2022, was the co-founder of another center, the Center for Justice at Columbia University.

And Cortez Masto’s concerns about AFJ’s advocacy for releasing people from prison who killed police officers appear to be a reference to AFJ advocating in 2021 for the release of aging former Black Panthers like Mumia Abu-Jamal, who got COVID 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 trial has been the subject of decades of scrutiny.)

If Cortez Masto is truly this concerned about supporting Biden’s judicial nominee because of a thin connection to AFJ and its advocacy for releasing elderly former Black Panthers with COVID, then it makes no sense why she voted to confirm one of former President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees who was directly involved in defending someone in court who was convicted of killing a police officer.

Cortez Masto voted in 2019 to confirm Anuraag Singhal to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Singhal had previously represented Jeffrey Lee Weaver, who was charged with murdering Fort Lauderdale, Florida, police officer Bryant Peney.

News coverage of this case at the time described Singhal crying in court as he argued in favor of life imprisonment over the death penalty for his client.

“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.”

Asked for comment on how Cortez Masto squares those details with her opposition to Mangi, her spokeswoman Lauren Wodarski said Wednesday that Mangi chose to be on this advisory board for AFJ, regardless of how loose his connection is to the group.

As for Cortez Masto’s vote to confirm one of Trump’s judicial nominees who was directly involved in defending someone who killed a police officer, Wodarski said everyone is entitled to be represented in court.

“Mr. Mangi chose to join the Alliance of Families for Justice Advisory Board, and their connections to Weather Underground are undeniable and disturbing,” Wodarski said in a statement.

“All defendants are entitled to legal representation, and Mr. Singhal was defending his client to advocate for a life sentence rather than the death penalty,” she said. “The Alliance of Families for Justice choosing to spend time and energy advocating for the release of individuals convicted of killing police officers shows a concerning lack of judgement.”

I hope you can find some love in your heart for Jeff Weaver and I hope you’ll let him die in prison.Anuraag Singhal, a judge confirmed by Sen. Cortez Masto, defending a cop-killer in court

It’s not clear what happens with Mangi’s nomination now. He can only afford to lose one more Democratic vote, and his nomination is toast. That’s assuming that no Republicans vote for him and that the Senate has full attendance for his potential confirmation vote.

A White House spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

A spokesperson for Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who referred Mangi to the White House for this judicial nomination, did not respond to a request for comment.

Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) sometimes vote with Democrats to confirm judges. Neither of their offices responded to a request for comment on how they plan to vote on Mangi.

HuffPost was able to catch Collins in a Senate hallway on Tuesday.

“I don’t have a view at this point,” is all she said of Mangi.

Igor Bobic contributed reporting.