For the past few months, Adeel Mangi, a law firm partner nominated by President Joe Biden to a vacant federal appeals court seat, has been the subject of one of the most unhinged right-wing smear campaigns in recent memory. Given how integral unhinged right-wing smear campaigns are to modern Republican Party politics, this is a high bar. I assure you that the conservative movement’s treatment of Mangi, who would be the first Muslim American federal appeals court judge if confirmed, comfortably clears it. 

Back in February, a right-wing advocacy group began running ads that spliced images of Mangi’s face with, among other things, video clips from Hamas’s 2023 attack on Israel and footage of a plane hitting the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. An ominous-sounding voiceover warns viewers that Mangi is an “antisemite” who, at his confirmation hearings, “refused to condemn” terrorism and other “hateful views.”

The factual basis for this claim—a term I use in the loosest possible sense—is Mangi’s prior service on the advisory board of the Rutgers Center for Security, Race, and Rights, an organization founded after September 11 to “address the underlying structural and systemic causes of Islamophobia and xenophobia.” In 2021, the Center hosted a panel that included (gasp!) speakers critical of Israel; Mangi, whose duties with the Center were limited to participation in annual meetings regarding research into federal antidiscrimination laws, did not know about or attend it. However, at Mangi’s confirmation hearing, Republican senators used this as a pretext to ask the nominee—who is, again, a law firm partner—to outline in excruciating detail his personal views on the Israeli-Palestine conflict. Louisiana Senator John Kennedy briefly shelved his bar exam trivia shtick to ask Mangi if he “celebrate[s]” 9/11, hoping to generate breathless National Review headlines that placed “Mangi” and “Hamas” as within a few words of each other.

Setting aside the dog-whistle nature of the allegations, the assertion that Mangi did not “condemn” terrorism at his confirmation hearing is easily disproved by watching video of his confirmation hearing, during which he in fact condemned such things nearly two dozen times, according to my colleague Madiba Dennie’s back-of-the-envelope math. Yet the ads frame Mangi as an enthusiastic backer of an organization that teaches people to “hate Israel, to hate America, and to support global terrorism,” and urge swing-state Democratic senators on the ballot in 2024, including Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey and Montana’s Jon Tester, to “vote no on giving antisemite Adeel Mangi a lifetime position on our courts.”

In an ideal world, the people in charge of confirming federal judges would not be affected by such lazy appeals to rank bigotry. In the real world, the people in charge of confirming federal judges are Senate Democrats. After remaining mostly silent in the face of weeks of relentless attacks on Mangi, several unnamed Democrats warned the White House that his nomination was on the rocks, according to CNN. Then, on Tuesday, one decided to say so in public: In a statement, Nevada’s Catherine Cortez Masto announced she would not vote to confirm Mangi, citing his links to “an organization that I have found has connections to individuals who killed police officers.” She may not be the last: Two other Democrats—Tester and Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin—would not say where they stand. A fourth, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, said at the time that he was “not aware” of Mangi, presumably because his K Street interview schedule is leaving him little time for doing any actual work.

Incredibly, Cortez Masto’s proffered excuse is even more embarrassing than the slurry of brain-dead racism that right-wing freaks have been shopping for weeks. As reported by HuffPost’s Jennifer Bendery, whose coverage of Mangi’s nomination has been equal parts good and enraging, the “organization” Cortez Masto references is the Alliance of Families for Justice, a nonprofit that provides legal services to incarcerated people, and counseling and other support services to their families. Mangi’s “connections” to AFJ stem from his 2020 representation of the family of a mentally ill man who was killed by a corrections officer. After Mangi won the case, he accepted an invitation to join AFJ’s advisory board—a role that, as Bendery notes, is so ceremonial that the board does not even meet

Where, you might be wondering, do “individuals who killed police officers” come in here? Well, in 2021, AFJ was one of many organizations advocating for the compassionate release of the activist Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has spent four decades in prison for the murder of a Philadelphia police officer, after Abu-Jamal contracted COVID-19. In 2022, AFJ helped sponsor a fellowship in memory of the late Kathy Boudin, the criminal justice reformer and Columbia University professor who’d spent 23 years in prison before her release in 2003. The fellowship supports “formerly incarcerated activists and organizers to produce research to support movement building.” 

You may have noticed that I described Mangi’s (rather tenuous) connections to AFJ, and AFJ’s (pretty superficial) connections to Abu-Jamal and Boudin. You may be wondering where the connections between Mangi and Abu-Jamal and Boudin are—connections that, if they existed, would make Cortez Masto’s explanation make even a lick of sense. Regrettably, this is the entire story: Catherine Cortez Masto, who does not have to defend her seat until 2028, wants to scuttle a trailblazing judicial nominee because he once won a landmark civil rights case in conjunction with a nonprofit that, independently of its relationship with Mangi or the case or anything else worth mentioning, also interacted with people whom Republican politicians find objectionable. Charlie Kelly does not have enough colors of yarn to diagram a smear this convoluted, and yet an honest-to-God Democratic senator is credulous enough to act on it.

On Friday, Mangi characterized the myriad smears against him as “categorically false, misinformed, and mistaken,” in a letter obtained by HuffPost. “Whether motivated by attempts to portray my religion as violent, or any other goal, any suggestion that I have sympathy for attacks in law enforcement is shocking and false.” 

Democrats hold a 51-49 majority in the Senate, which means that they don’t need Cortez Masto’s vote to confirm Mangi if the rest of the caucus holds together. (In the event of a 50-50 tie, Vice President Kamala Harris can break it.) Unfortunately, Cortez Masto’s cowardice paved the way for Manchin’s vacuousness: Late Wednesday, the retiring West Virginia senator announced that he would not vote to confirm any judicial nominees who do not have the support of at least one Republican. Manchin explained his choice to hand his vote to Mitch McConnell as “my own little filibuster,” which is a fitting coda to the career of a man whose interest in public service has always been contingent on how much attention he can wring from it.

As Lydia Polgreen writes at The New York Times, this is a particularly fraught time for Democrats to decide to capitulate to the worst-faith bigots in electoral politics. Across the country, incidents of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim discrimination and violence have spiked during the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. The Republican Party’s 2024 nominee, who previously ran for office promising to ban Muslims from entering the country, is now shrugging his shoulders at comparisons of his anti-immigrant rhetoric to Hitler’s and Mussolini’s. And for all that the Biden White House’s effort to overhaul the federal judiciary has accomplished, time is running out: By failing to summon the moral courage to repudiate the attacks on Mangi, they also risk handing the privilege of filling the seat to the winner of the November election, whomever it may be.

Over the past several years, Republicans have developed a well-worn playbook for attacking Biden’s professionally diverse judicial candidates—public defenders, labor lawyers, civil rights advocates, and so on—as unfit for the bench. But there is nothing in Mangi’s work experience that reactionaries oppose on principle: He has not dedicated his career to fighting for reproductive rights (bad), or representing workers trying to unionize (worse), or defending poor people accused of crimes (unspeakable, unconscionable, possibly grounds for disbarment). He is a partner in the same corporate law firm that has employed him for 23 years. As far as judicial nominations go, this one should be as boring as it gets.

If Mangi were a white guy, Republicans would not give a shit about confirming him. Because he is not, Republicans clocked this nomination as one they could jeopardize with a few ambitiously Islamophobic distortions of reality. By blessing such a cynical, depraved stunt, Democrats are proving them right.

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