October 8, 2014, Washington, D.C. – This week, the Public Affairs Alliance (PAAIA), along with 30 Years After, the Arab American Institute, the Armenian National Committee of America, and the PARS Equality Center sent a letter to President Obama in support of Judge Afsaneh Ashley Tabaddor and her recently filed suit against the United States Department of Justice (Case No.14-cv-06390, Tabaddor v. Holder et al.).
In this suit, Judge Tabaddor, an immigration judge for the U.S. Immigration Court, challenges an order that indefinitely recuses her from hearing cases involving Iranian nationals, citing that the order violates her First Amendment rights of free speech and association. The suit also notes that the order is racially discriminatory under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It charges that the Department of Justice (DOJ) based its disqualification order on racially-motivated and discriminatory criteria, specifically Judge Tabaddor’s Iranian heritage and her leadership role within the Iranian American community.
The letter notes that the recusal of a judge – in both state and federal courts – generally requires a showing of potential bias in a specific case. Bias is not to be assumed because of one’s national origin. In the case of Judge Tabaddor, however, no evidence has been presented that she cannot be impartial in cases involving Iranians, nor has there been any allegation that she engaged in any favoritism or impropriety in any case.
“We are concerned that the DOJ order challenges the assertion that an immigration judge cannot fairly administer the law because of his or her racial or ethnic heritage, or association with a particular race, national origin, or religion,” the authors write in the letter. “If this order is allowed to stand, judges of all backgrounds (African American, German American, Jewish American, Mexican American, etc.) stand to be recused from hearing cases involving members of their own community.”
The organizations urged the administration to review the case of Judge Tabaddor, and if no evidence has been found that she cannot be impartial in cases involving Iranians, to reverse the recusal order given to her. In addition, the authors recommend that the DOJ issue a clarification that it will continue to encourage diversity among its judges and will not limit their community leadership or engagement in civic, religious, volunteer, and other activities.
PAAIA will continue to follow up on the status of this complaint. A copy of the letter to President Obama can be accessed here.
A member of the California bar, Judge Tabaddor is an immigration judge for the U.S. Immigration Court, where she serves as a judge in one of the most active courts in the nation. In addition, Judge Tabaddor serves as an adjunct professor with UCLA Law School and has served as an adjunct professor at USC, Chapman, and George Washington Law Schools. Prior to her appointment for the judgeship in 2005, she served for three years as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Central District of California in Los Angeles. Judge Tabaddor is an active member of the Iranian American community, having previously served on the Board of Advisors for the Iranian American Bar Association and as a mentor for the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans.