From Advocate to Judge
After a career as a civil rights lawyer, Ajmel Quereshi '07 last spring became a U.S. Magistrate Judge in Maryland
Ajmel Quereshi ’07 is taking his commitment to public service law to a new level with his appointment as a magistrate judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.
Quereshi took his oath of office last April after the judges of the district announced his selection from a slate of candidates.
“I have had the opportunity to engage in public service in a variety of different ways — as a law school professor, a civil rights litigator, a federal law clerk — all while working on civil rights issues at the national and local levels,” Quereshi says. “I am excited to continue working in the interests of the public but to do it in a different sphere with new challenges, new responsibilities and new expectations.”
One exciting aspect of the new job, Quereshi says, is the variety of issues he deals with daily. Magistrate judges have the authority to issue warrants, conduct preliminary proceedings such as initial appearances and arraignments, and hear cases involving petty offenses committed on federal lands. They also handle pretrial motions and hearings in civil and criminal cases. Magistrate judges also make bail determinations under the Bail Reform Act of 1984.
“Even for someone who pictured himself as a generalist, it is very rare as far as I know for anyone working in the legal field to one day be working on an issue under the Bail Reform Act, the next day be helping to settle an employment discrimination case and the next day be writing regarding a class-action issue,” Quereshi says.
Devotion to Public Service
Quereshi attributes his devotion to public service to experiences attending inner-city, predominantly minority public schools in Milwaukee, where he observed that “not all structures and systems in society provide equal opportunity to all individuals.” Also influential for Quereshi, as the son of Pakistani-American immigrants, was seeing the challenges that immigrants face.
While he’s no longer an advocate, he remains committed to inclusivity. “I still have a responsibility as a judge, as I did when I was an attorney, to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to be equally heard, and that the doors to the courthouse, metaphorically speaking, are open to all,” Quereshi observes.
The Law School’s renowned human rights program and the opportunity to work with Professor David Weissbrodt, the distinguished human rights law scholar who passed away late last year, drew Quereshi to Minnesota from Wisconsin. He also appreciated support and guidance from Professors Kristin Hickman, Michael Tonry and Brad Karkkainen. Quereshi returned ti the Law School in 2017 to speak to those interested about following a public-service career path similar to his.
Civil Rights Advocate
Before his appointment as magistrate judge, Quereshi served for more than seven years as senior counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. He also has served as staff counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, a visiting assistant professor at Howard University Law School and a federal law clerk.
He was a Skadden Fellow at the ACLU of Maryland and received a Wasserstein Fellowship from Harvard Law School, a recognition for lawyers committed to mentoring junior lawyers committed to public service. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology, English and History from Marquette University.
“I had really wonderful parents who were tremendously supportive,” Quereshi says. “In law school, the places I worked at, where I interned, and after I became a lawyer, senior lawyers were always incredibly generous with their time, support and advice. It’s humbling to know that anything that I’ve done so far, and anything that I will do, is a product of other people supporting me. I hope to pay that forward to other people who are looking for similar advice, guidance and support in following a career in public service.”
Todd Neslon is a Lake Elmo, minnesota-based freelance writer