The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee voted today to advance the nominations of Julien X. Neals and Zahid Quaraishi as U.S. District Court Judges.
The panel approved Neals by a 16-6 vote and Quaraishi by a vote of 19-3.
The next step is a confirmation vote by the full U.S. Senate, a position that is entirely familiar to Neals.
President Barack Obama originally nominated Neals in February 2015, to replace retiring Judge Faith Hochberg. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Neals in September, but McConnell never allowed the full Senate to vote on his confirmation.
Neals’ nomination sat idle for 677 days before the 114th Congress adjourned. Donald Trump’s election in 2016 ended Neals’ viability as a judicial candidate.
President Joe Biden nominated the two on March 30 at the recommendation of U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker.
Prior to his nomination to serve as a federal judge, Neals held top posts in Newark while Booker was mayor. He was the chief municipal court judge, he city’s corporation counsel, and Newark business administrator.
Booker, who serves on the Judiciary Committee, appealed to senators to trust his endorsement of Neals.
“I’ve known this guy for 20 years. I’ve sat in the most fierce negotiations with him,” Booker said. “He has this cool about him, his demeanor that I always said, ‘You should sit on the bench because you have this ability to see everybody’s side of the argument, cool my passions with logic, common sense, and an objective view of facts.’”
Booker said Neals “does not see party, he does not see people as anything but the humanity in him.”
Five Republican senators voted to confirm Neals: Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), John Cornyn (R-Texas), John Kennedy (R-Louisiana) and Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina). Neals received no votes from six Republicans: Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska), Josh Hawley (R-Missouri), Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee).
Lee, Cotton and Blackburn voted in support of the Quaraishi nomination.
Neals is currently serving as the Bergen County Counsel and acting county administrator. He’s been in Bergen for the last five years.
If Neals is confirmed, Bergen County Executive James Tedesco and Democratic County Chairman Paul Juliano will need to fill the two vacancies created by his exit.
Quraishi served an U.S. Army JAG Corps officer and was deployed to Iraq in 2004 and 2006. He was an Assistant U.S. Attorney and Riker Danzig partner before being named U.S. Magistrate Court Judge in 2019. He grew up in Fanwood and is a Pakistani American; he’ll be the New Jersey’s first Asian American District Court Judge.
“I supported Mr. Neals under Obama and don’t see any reason to change that view,” Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee. “Judge Quraishi’s service prosecuting the war on terror and enforcing our immigration laws under President Bush is admirable.”
Six federal judgeships in New Jersey are currently vacant, about one-third of the U.S District Court.
In April, Biden nominated Christine O’Hearn, a partner at Brown & Connery, to serve as a U.S. District Court Judge.
Neals was named to replace Judge Peter Sheridan, and Quaraishi is taking the place of Judge William Martini, a former congressman. O’Hearn was named to replace Judge Robert Kugler. All three judges are now on senior status.
“Mr. Neal is some judge, He’s presided over 6,000 cases during his time as chief judge of the Newark Municipal Court,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Durbin. “I think that’s more than Judge Judy.”
Durbin called Quaraishi “exceptionally well-qualified to be a District Court Judge” and cited his military service in Iraq.
Booker said that Quaraishi will make history as a Muslim federal judge.
“This is a cherished ideal on both sides of this committee – this idea of religious freedom – that we are a country that celebrates that ideal that was such a sacrosanct ideal on principle that our founders put that into the Constitution,” Booker said. “But here we are, generations and generations later, and this will a real moment of breakthrough for a person who has shown their patriotism.”
At his confirmation hearing, Durbin pressed Quaraishi about his knowledge of Sharia law
“I loved his raw, naked patriotism that he displayed in his response,” Booker said. “I find him to be an extraordinary soul.”