Nominated to the federal bench in January, Choudhury has already attracted attention for being the first female Muslim federal judicial nominee. Aside from the historic significance, Choudhury also makes a notable nominee for a significant paper trail of litigation and statements on hotly contested issues.
Born in 1976 in a Bangladeshi American family, Choudhury earned a B.A. from Columbia University in 1998, an M.P.A. from Princeton in 2006 and a J.D. from Yale Law School in 2006. She then clerked for Judge Denise Cote on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and then for Judge Barrington Daniels Parker on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
After her clerkships, Choudhury joined the ACLU, staying with the organization until the present day. In her time there, Choudhury has transitioned through the National Security Project and the Racial Justice Program before her current role as Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.
History of the Seat
Choudhury has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. This seat opened when Joseph Bianco was elevated to the Second Circuit on May 17, 2019. On February 12, 2020, the Trump Administration nominated Saritha Komatireddy to fill this vacancy, but she never received a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
On September 1, 2021, Choudhury was recommended for a nomination by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to the White House. She was nominated on January 19, 2022.
Choudhury has spent virtually her entire legal career at the American Civil Liberties Union in various capacities, and has had the opportunity to work on a number of prominent civil rights cases. We have summarized some of these matters below.
National Security Project
Early in her career at the ACLU, Choudhury worked primarily on national security cases. For example, she represented Amir Mohamed Meshal, who was detained in Ethiopia and allegedly interrogated by the FBI on allegations of supporting Islamic militants. Beth DeFalco, NJ Man Sues FBI over his Detention in Ethiopia, A.P., Nov. 10, 2009. Additionally and notably, Choudhury argued before the Ninth Circuit in a challenge to the Transportation Safety Administration’s No-Fly List. Nigel Duara, Federal Appeals Court in Ore. Takes Up No-Fly Case, A.P., May 11, 2012. The Ninth Circuit ultimately sided with Choudhury, allowing the suit to move forward. See Latif v. Holder, 686 F.3d 1122 (9th Cir. 2012).
Racial Justice Program
Choudhury also worked at the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program, where she worked on an agreement with the Boston Police Department to track racial profiling. Jess Bidgood, Boston Police Focus on Blacks in Disproportionate Numbers, Study Shows, N.Y. Times, Oct. 9, 2014. She also worked on an ACLU report that concluded that black drivers in Florida are stopped disproportionately by police. See Lizette Alvarez, Florida Said to Ticket More Blacks on Seatbelts, N.Y. Times, Jan. 28, 2016.
ACLU of Illinois
Since 2020, Choudhury has served as the Legal Director of the ACLU of Illinois. In this role, Choudhury has been supportive of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s efforts to reform policing. See A.D. Quig, Lori’s Lieutenants Hitting the Exit; Brain Drain Threatens Push for Change in Policing, Crain’s Chicago Business, May 3, 2021.
Statements and Writings
In her role at the ACLU, Choudhury has spoken out frequently in speeches as well as media statements. For example, Choudhury has spoken out against the No-Fly List, arguing that the process of placing individuals on the list lacks transparency. See Chris Hawley, John Curran, Terror Suspects Seek to Clear Names, A.P., Mar. 21, 2011. Choudhury has also been critical of the privatization of parole and probation. See Tina Rosenberg, Out of Debtors’ Prison, With Law as the Key, N.Y. Times Blogs, Mar. 27, 2015. In another article, Choudhury has spoken on the “racial wealth gap” which can lead to fines and parking tickets having more severe consequences for minorities. See Paul Kiel, Debt and the Racial Wealth Gap, N.Y. Times, Jan. 3, 2016.
In an interview discussing her new role as the Legal Director of the ACLU of Illinois, Choudhury stated, in a quote that is likely to be frequently repeated: “Our job and my purpose in life is to make sure we use the law as a tool for social justice.” See A.D. Quig, The Takeway; Nusrat Jahan Choudhury, Crain’s Chicago Business, Mar. 23, 2020.
Furthermore, as a law clerk to Judge Cote, Choudhury authored an article that was critical of efforts by Western governments to “liberate” Muslim women by banning religious articles of clothing and headscarves, noting that this can infringe on religious freedom and the autonomy of the women in question, as well as another article discussing women’s rights in the Afghani Constitution. See Nusrat Choudhury, From the Stasi Commission to the European Court of Human Rights: L’Affaire du Foulard and the Challenge of Protecting the Rights of Muslim Girls, 16 Colum. J. Gender & L. 199 (2007); Nusrat Choudhury, Constrained Spaces for Islamic Feminism: Women’s Rights and the 2004 Constitution of Afghanistan, 19 Yale L.J. & Feminism 155 (2007).
Given her experience with civil rights law and her time at the ACLU, Choudhury’s nomination was already likely to attract strong opposition. However, her self-description as having a life purpose to effectuate social justice through the law is likely to be used to argue that Choudhury is an activist, rather than a jurist. In defense, Choudhury can cite the context of the quote, made in her role as an advocate, not as a judge, while critics may counter that it would be hard for Choudhury to set aside her “purpose in life” when she takes the bench. Ultimately, Choudhury’s nomination is likely to be hotly contested, potentially even coming down to the vote of Vice President Kamala Harris.