Nusrat Choudhury ’98 Makes Judicial History

Nusrat Choudhury
The U.S. federal court system was established with the Judiciary Act of 1789, but it would take nearly 235 years for a Muslim woman to be appointed to a federal judgeship. This past June, the U.S. Senate confirmed civil rights lawyer Nusrat Choudhury ’98 to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Her lifetime appointment is historic in more ways than one: Choudhury is the first Bangladeshi-American, and just the second Muslim person, to serve as a U.S. federal judge.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who recommended Choudhury for the nomination, issued a statement in which he called her a “breath of fresh air with a unique perspective,” noting that she “has dedicated her career to making sure all people can have their voices heard in court.”

Choudhury’s body of work corroborates that. Prior to her confirmation, Choudhury worked as an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, where she rose to prominence through her participation in groundbreaking civil rights cases, some of which had national implications.” When President Biden nominated her in January 2022, Choudhury was the legal director for ACLU’s Illinois chapter; previously she had been deputy director of its national Racial Justice Program.

In a statement lauding Choudhury’s confirmation, ACLU executive director Anthony D. Romero highlighted some of her biggest accomplishments, including four lawsuits that challenged the incarceration of people without the financial means to pay for outstanding traffic and misdemeanor fines. Those cases led to policy changes in Georgia, Mississippi, Washington and South Carolina, which were hailed as victories in the fight against modern-day “debtors’ prisons.”

“Poor people should never be locked up behind bars because of their poverty,” Choudhury said in a 2017 interview with Charleston’s The Post and Courier.

Choudhury also had a hand in a number of cases dealing with racial profiling. She represented plaintiffs in a 2012 case that challenged the U.S. government’s process for placing individuals on the No Fly List; the case yielded the first instance of a federal court deeming No Fly List procedures unconstitutional. And she litigated a 2017 case that challenged racially-biased “stop-and-frisk” policies in Milwaukee and another that contested the surveillance of Muslim individuals by the NYPD. Both cases resulted in landmark settlements and led to significant reforms. “Challenging unlawful policing up front is so critical to addressing discrimination,” Choudhury told Vogue in 2018.

Though Choudhury is not currently giving interviews, friends from her time at the College were eager to gush about their pal “Nus.” “I’m excited for her, but I’m also not surprised,” said Felicity Steverson BC’98, who met Choudhury through mutual friends when both were undergraduates and has remained close to her. “There’s truly no one I could think of who is better qualified to be even and weigh all sides.”

“She’s been committed to fairness and justice for as long as I’ve known her,” said another of Choudhury’s longtime friends, Abigail Adams ’99. “That is her throughline.”

A Chicago native, Choudhury majored in history and graduated summa cum laude. She earned an M.P.A. from the Princeton School of Public Affairs in 2006 and a J.D. from Yale Law that same year; before joining the ACLU, she clerked in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and the Southern District of New York.

As an undergraduate, she also pursued another passion: dance. Choudhury met her friend Adams through the student-run dance group Orchesis, where they choreographed and performed routines in a variety of genres. According to Adams, Choudhury continued to find time in her demanding schedule for dancing long after graduation: “Nus would always be ducking out of work to go to a 9:00 p.m. dance performance,” she said.

As fate would have it, Adams also ended up working at the ACLU, where she is the associate director of foundation relations. She doesn’t recall ever having conversations with Choudhury about going into the nonprofit world, but Adams says it was understood between them that they were on that trajectory.

“She’s one of those people who is truly always trying to make the world a better place — but for real, not in the way that people usually say that,” said Adams. “From the beginning, I could feel her fierce commitment to justice. She was always trying to figure out the best way to do that.”

Nathalie Alonso ’08, from Queens, is a freelance writer, a children’s author and an editorial producer for, Major League Baseball’s official Spanish-language website.