People For the American Way

The Next Biden Judge in Oregon Understands Why Pronouns Matter

News and Analysis
The Next Biden Judge in Oregon Understands Why Pronouns Matter

One of the great things about so many Biden judges is their commitment to civil rights and their ability to understand the experiences of people different from them. One pending nominee who has talked about that a lot is Judge Mustafa Kasubhai. He’s been nominated to be a district court judge in Oregon.

Who is Mustafa Kasubhai?

As described in People For’s letter supporting Kasubhai, he has the experience, principles, and wisdom needed to make an excellent federal judge. He started his legal career representing injured workers, spent a decade as a state court judge, and has been a federal magistrate judge since 2018.

When he’s confirmed, he will be only the third Muslim American to be a lifetime federal judge. He is also a person of color in a state that is not very diverse. He has spent his career reaching out to his colleagues in the Oregon legal community, to bridge the gaps between people with different backgrounds.

Kasubhai’s efforts to build bridges

Kasubhai has urged his fellow attorneys who have not experienced discrimination to be open to personal and professional conversations with their colleagues who have. That means setting aside conventional ideas of proof that would be more appropriate for a courtroom. Instead, Kasubhai encourages his colleagues to accept and understand the other person’s experience.

Kasubhai and pronouns

Judge Kasubhai also recognizes that sometimes he is the one who needs to be more open to understanding the life experiences of others. For instance, he was initially skeptical of providing pronouns in introductions or email signature lines. But over the years, he came to recognize how, as a cisgender judge, he was unintentionally making it hard for some to fully access justice in his court. He wrote about this in an article called “Pronouns and Privilege.”

I considered how many people over the last 14 years that I have been a judge must have appeared in front [of] me anxious or fearful that their gender identity, if it didn’t conform to that which they believed I expected, would be met with a severe consequence, such as a higher sentence or fine, a loss of custody, reduced parenting time, a snide remark, or at least a disapproving look. How many people were compelled to conceal their gender identity in court, and how many people agonized and stressed over these decisions, and how many people spent so much of their mental and emotional energy on passing, to avoid recrimination in court, that they were unable to spend time preparing for court?

Judge Kasubhai now makes a point of asking people in his courtroom to say which honorific they prefer, so as not to misgender them. He sees that as more than just part of being a good judge. In an article called “A Commitment to the Struggle,” he writes that “society is only as civilized as our capacity to appreciate and support those who are the most vulnerable.”

This is the kind of deep understanding that all senators should want in our judges.

What happens next?

The Judiciary Committee held a hearing for Kasubhai and several other nominees on October 4. As you might imagine, the qualities that make him such a great nominee are the same ones that some committee Republican senators were unhappy about. For instance, Sen. John Kennedy said that Kasubhai “seem[s] to be obsessed with race and sexuality.”

Kasubhai will likely be up for a committee vote with several other judicial nominations by the end of October or early November, and then he will be eligible for a confirmation vote by the full Senate.

What can you do?

You can call your senators (202-224-3121) and tell them how important it is to confirm Biden judges – and that you want them to vote to confirm Mustafa Kasubhai as soon as possible.

And if you’re from Oregon, thank your senators for recommending Kasubhai to the White House in the first place.


Biden judges, gender identity, judicial nominations, LGBTQ equality, Mustafa Kasubhai