Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

Why a ‘Fair and Impartial Judiciary Has Special Meaning’ to Second Circuit Nominee Menashi

Steven Menashi (George Mason University / Antonin Scalia Law School)

According to someone present at Second Circuit nominee Steven Menashi’s confirmation hearing on Wednesday, it was difficult to hear Menashi’s poignant retelling of his family’s flight from vicious mobs in 1940s Iraq because of a vicious mob in the Dirksen building. So I provide here an extensive excerpt from Menashi’s opening statement:

I am proud to have these family members here and I would like to say something about them, if you’ll indulge me, because ours is a family that could only have come together in America.

My father is an immigrant from Iran. He was born in Tehran to an Iraqi Jewish family that had lived in Baghdad for centuries before having to leave. Most people have forgotten this today but Iraq was once a flourishing center of Jewish life and culture. Religious and ethnic persecution put an end to that. Today in Baghdad it is estimated there are 10 Jews left.

One of the outbreaks of violence against the Jews in Iraq was the Farhud, a pogrom in 1941 in which Baghdadi Jews were raped and murdered, and hundreds of Jewish homes and businesses were looted or destroyed. My grandmother Daisy survived the Farhud because her Kurdish neighbors smuggled her and her sisters out of the city, running across the flat rooftops of the houses in Baghdad until they reached a hiding place in the countryside.

My grandparents later tried to build a new home in Iran but eventually left because they could not trust the courts to be impartial. My grandfather lost his livelihood after having a dispute with the partners in his auto parts business and he could not rely on the courts to accept the testimony of a Jew. Because of my family’s experience, this country’s commitment to the rule of law, to equal justice for each individual regardless of their background, and to a fair and impartial  judiciary has special meaning to me.

I also want to say something also about my mother’s family, and her father for whom I am named. My grandfather Samuel James Berenson escaped the Ukraine at age 13 when, in the middle of the night, his family pushed him from the Ukrainian side of the frozen Bug River into the arms of relatives waiting on the Polish side. He made his way to the Bronx, where he worked in his father’s candy store while finishing high school. When he applied to medical school, to avoid the anti-Jewish quotas of the  time, he adopted a middle name—because most Jewish immigrants did not have middle names. Jimmy Walker was the mayor of New York City at the time, so he took the middle name James, and that’s why my middle name is James too.

My grandfather became a surgeon and an officer in the U.S. Army, and he returned to Europe as a soldier to help liberate the concentration camps. While there, he would ask the Jewish prisoners about the relatives he had left behind. We eventually learned that those relatives, his aunts and uncles and their children, were murdered by German forces in their hometown during the Holocaust.

I want also to acknowledge my in-laws Maya and Victor Golant, who are both Jewish refugees from the Soviet Union. Like many others, they came to this country thanks to the Jackson-Vanik Amendment passed by this body in 1974.

My family has made me who I am today. The lessons of their struggles to escape violence and discrimination have resonated with me for as long as I can remember. My family and I are grateful for the home we have found in America, and I appreciate our constitutional traditions of equality before the law, religious freedom, tolerance, and an impartial judiciary.

Yes, this is a nominee that the Left is shamelessly smearing as a fascist.


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