Amir H. Ali
Nominated to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
On January 10, 2024, President Biden nominated Amir Ali to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Ali currently serves as President & Executive Director of the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center. He is also a Lecturer on Law and Clinical Co-Director at Harvard Law School, and an Adjunct Professor at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law. Ali’s rich professional background in movement lawyering and civil rights litigation would bring much needed professional diversity to the bench.
Ali was born in 1985 in Ontario, Canada. He earned his B.S. in Engineering from Canada’s University of Waterloo in 2008 and his J.D., magna cum laude, from Harvard Law School in 2011. While at Harvard Law, he earned the prestigious Dean’s Award for Community Service.
After graduating from law school, Ali clerked first for Judge Raymond C. Fisher of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and then for Puisine Justice Marshall Rothstein of the Supreme Court of Canada. Following these two clerkships, Ali joined the law firm Jenner & Block LLP as a litigation associate. There, Ali quickly distinguished himself as a top-tier litigator and, during his fifth year, was chosen to argue Welch v. United States before the Supreme Court. The Court sided with Ali’s client in a 7-1 holding – making him not only one of the few associate-level attorneys to ever argue before the Court but also one of the few to win.
In 2017, Ali left Jenner & Block to join the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center. In Ali’s own words, the Center “believe[s] in a legal system that treats every person with dignity – as a human being – regardless of their social or economic power. Regardless of their race or identity.” The MacArthur Justice Center has been at the forefront of many of this nation’s major civil rights issues – routinely litigating high-level police accountability, unjust incarceration, and use of force cases. Ali was initially hired as Supreme Court & Appellate Counsel before being elevated first to Director of the D.C. Office, then to Executive Director, and now to President & Executive Director. Since joining the Center, Ali has litigated two cases before the Supreme Court (Thompson v. Clark and Garza v. Idaho). Ali won both cases, making him 3/3 in Supreme Court victories.
In addition to his litigation work, Ali also serves as a law school instructor, passing his specialized knowledge on to the next generation of attorneys at Harvard Law School and the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law. At Harvard, Ali serves as a Lecturer on Law, teaching predominantly appellate and constitutional law courses, as well as Co-Director of the Criminal Justice Appellate Clinic. At the David A. Clarke School of Law, Ali is an adjunct professor, teaching courses on Supreme Court practice.
Professional Activities and Accolades
Ali currently serves on the Death Penalty Information Center’s Board of Directors. The Center compiles research on death penalty cases in an effort to provide the American people with clear information on capital punishment in the United States. He also served on The Appellate Project Board of Directors from 2020-2023, including a year-long term as Co-Chair. The Appellate Project aims to increase the number of appellate lawyers of color through mentorship.
In addition to his legal work, Ali serves on the Board of Directors for the Mosaic Theater Company of D.C. The company “produces bold, culturally diverse theatre that illuminates critical issues, elevates fresh voices, and sparks connection among communities throughout our region and beyond.” He is also a Key Society Member for Pathways to Housing D.C, an organization dedicated to eradicating homelessness in the District of Columbia.
Ali’s impressive career testifies to his commitment to both equal justice under law and to providing high quality legal representation for all, regardless of wealth or status. The following cases illustrate his skill and dedication:
Thompson v. Clark
142 S. Ct. 1332 (2022)
In Thompson v. Clark, Ali represented a military veteran falsely accused of criminal conduct. After the initial case against Thompson was dropped, he sued the arresting officers under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, arguing that they engaged in a malicious prosecution. The trial court dismissed his case, claiming that Thompson needed to show not only that the charges against him were dismissed but also that he was affirmatively innocent. Thompson appealed his case to the Second Circuit, which ruled in his favor. The case was eventually appealed to the Supreme Court, where Ali represented Thompson at oral argument. The Court, in a 6-3 holding, sided with Thompson, allowing him to continue litigating his case on remand before the district court. The case is currently on appeal before the Second Circuit.
Garza v. Idaho
139 S. Ct. 738 (2019)
Garza v. Idaho is a landmark constitutional law and criminal justice case in which the Supreme Court found that the Constitution requires the restoration of the right to appeal to criminal defendants whose counsel improperly forfeited that right. Gilberto Garza, the plaintiff in this case, pleaded guilty to two state law crimes. After signing his plea agreement, which waived his right to an appeal, Garza contacted his lawyer, requesting that an appeal be filed. His lawyer refused, meaning that Garza was denied not only his right to appeal but his constitutional right to representation. Pre-Garza, defendants in Garza’s position were forced “to identify the points that their attorney would have raised in an appeal” on their own – an incredibly difficult task for those without specialized legal knowledge. Ali represented Garza before the Supreme Court, convincing six of the nine justices, including two conservatives, that his client was unconstitutionally denied his right to an appeal.
Welch v. United States
136 S. Ct. 1257 (2016)
As a fifth-year associate at Jenner & Block, Ali secured a 7-1 Supreme Court ruling in favor of his client in Welch v. United States. In 2010, Welch was sentenced to prison under the enhanced sentencing provision of the Armed Career Criminal Act. After his conviction, in 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that the legislation’s enhanced sentencing provision was unconstitutionally vague in Johnson v. United States. Under federal law, new substantive rules announced by the Supreme Court are retroactive but new procedural rules are not. The question in Welch was whether the Johnson ruling created a new substantive rule or a new procedural rule. Ali argued for the former and, in a 7-1 ruling, the Court agreed, finding that the Johnson rule was substantive and should therefore be applied retroactively. The Court’s ruling in Welch allowed those unfairly convicted under an unconstitutionally vague law to request release from incarceration.
Jones v. Treubig
963 F.3d 214 (2d Cir. 2020)
Matthew Jones was a military veteran who, while at home in his apartment building, was violently arrested by members of the New York Police Department (“NYPD”). Jones did not resist arrest but was nonetheless subjected to extreme force, hit with a nightstick, and tased twice. After his arrest, Jones sued one of the offending officers in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and lost, with the court finding the officer was protected by the doctrine of qualified immunity. Ali and the MacArthur Center intervened during the appeals process to represent Jones before the Second Circuit. On appeal, the court ruled in Jones’ favor, finding that the officer violated clearly established law through his use of excessive force.
Cole v. Carson
935 F.3d 44 (5th Cir. 2019)
In 2010, police officers apprehended and shot teenager Ryan Cole despite Cole posing no active threat to the officers. The officers then lied about what happened and falsified evidence to cover up their misconduct. Cole and his family sued the officers under various provisions of the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas ruled that the officers’ conduct violated clearly established law. A Fifth Circuit panel agreed, as did the Fifth Circuit sitting en banc. Ali represented Cole before the en banc panel of 18 federal judges.