Senate confirms Oakland County judge, first Chaldean, to federal bench

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

The U.S. Senate voted Thursday 83-15 to confirm Oakland County Circuit Judge Hala Y. Jarbou to fill a vacancy on the federal bench in Western Michigan. 

Michigan Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, both Democrats, voted yes. 

Jarbou, a former federal prosecutor, would be the first Chaldean American to serve on the federal bench when she's sworn into office. She has said her story is the "shining example of the American dream." 

Oakland County Circuit Judge Hala Jarbou

"As an immigrant to this country, I am truly humbled and honored by the president's nomination," Jarbou told the Senate Judiciary Committee at her June hearing.

"As a member of a close family and community, I learned the value of hard work and have strived to excel in everything I do. I've dedicated my entire legal career to one of public service, first as a state prosecutor, then as a federal prosecutor and now as a state Circuit Court judge."

President Donald Trump nominated Jarbou, 48, in March to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan. The Judiciary Committee advanced her nomination in July. 

Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean Community Foundation in Sterling Heights, said Jarbou's Thursday confirmation is a “historic" moment for the Chaldean community, which is made up of Iraqi Catholics. 

"Obviously, Hala is someone with great integrity, highly respected. She has bipartisan support, as is evidenced by the vote," Manna said. "She's always worked great on both sides of the aisle."

Jarbou would fill a spot on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan that has been vacant for over three years. Judge Robert Holmes Bell in Grand Rapids retired in early 2017.

Her nomination followed the withdrawal of Michigan attorney Michael Bogren from consideration for the post last year after a few Republican senators objected to his record.

The White House and Michigan's senators essentially had to start the process over after the Senate Judiciary Committee treated Bogren "unfairly," said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond and an expert on the federal judiciary.

"It was a long time coming," Tobias said of filling the empty seat in Michigan.

"Judge Jarbou was a well-qualified, experienced, mainstream nominee who had  powerful support from Sens. Stabenow and Peters and a smooth committee hearing and committee vote." 

Support from 83 senators is a "very strong bipartisan vote," he added, guessing that the 15 Democrats who opposed her were for reasons that had little if anything to do with Jarbou.

"Many seem to be registering dissatisfaction with Trump and the GOP Senate majority’s process," Tobias said. 

Jarbou met and was interviewed by the Michigan judicial commission established by both Stabenow and Peters.

“I take the Senate’s constitutional role to advise and consent very seriously," Peters said in a statement. "After reviewing her record and qualifications, I voted for Judge Jarbou’s confirmation.”

Born in Telkif in northern Iraq in 1971, Jarbou immigrated with her family to the United States as a young child. She now lives in West Bloomfield. 

Harbou has served on the county bench since 2015 when she was appointed by former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican. 

She presided over at least 77 cases that have gone to verdict or judgment, most of which were jury trials, according to a questionnaire she submitted to the Judiciary Committee. She handles an average of 450 to 500 cases at any given time. 

Since 2011, she has been a member of the conservative Federalist Society, which has worked with the Trump administration to identify conservative judicial nominees. 

Jarbou recently presided over a case related to the green ooze that came out of the ground near Interstate 696 in December.

She graduated with a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Michigan in 1994 and got her law degree from Wayne State University Law School in 1997.

Before becoming a judge, Jarbou was an assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Michigan for five years. With that office, she prosecuted cases involving drug and firearms offenses, child pornography, and high-level drug trafficking, according to the White House.

Earlier in her career, she was an assistant prosecutor in the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office from 1997 to 2010, where she handled general felony offenses, homicides, child sexual assault and high-profile felony cases. 

"It has been the honor and the privilege of my life to have served and continue to serve in each position," Jarbou said at her confirmation hearing. "I'm very proud of my career of service and hope to continue serving until I retire."

Jarbou's nomination came after the Trump administration angered members of the Chaldean community by pushing to deport hundreds of Iraqi nationals to Iraq — despite claims from their families and attorneys that they could be targeted there by terrorists or persecuted for their Christian faith.

While visiting Warren in January, Trump said he would grant relief to Iraqi Christians facing deportation; however, it remains unclear who would be eligible to remain in the country. Efforts to deport Iraqis have continued since Trump's remarks, lawyers say.

Manna said the community continues to wait for Trump to follow through on that pledge.

"It hasn’t happened yet," Manna said. "We're thankful again for the first-ever Chaldean appointed to the federal bench, but we also want to hopefully get the president to fulfill his promise to aid those at risk of deportation."

Staff writer Sarah Rahal contributed