California’s First Muslim Judge Halim Dhanidina PO ’94 Discusses Dissent at the Ath

LA County Superior Court Judge Haim Dhanidina PO ’94 on Feb. 15. (Tim Hernandez • The Student Life)

Los Angeles County Superior Court District Judge Halim Dhanidina PO’ 94 spoke about the growing importance of dissent in the United States at Claremont Mckenna College’s Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum on Wednesday, Feb. 16.

Dhanidina attended UCLA for law school and said that as a law student, he did not spend much time reading dissenting opinions, because “why do I need to know what the losers thought about the case?”.

However, according to Dhanidina, dissents prove just as valuable as majority opinions. Central to his talk was the very significance of dissent to American society and the idea that democracy should facilitate disagreement and self-expression.

One of the most important parts of dissent in judicial cases, according to Dhanidina, is the ability to “time travel.” Oftentimes, he said, justices or judges write dissenting opinions with the knowledge that they will be read in the future.

As an example of the importance of dissenting opinions, Dhanidina recalled that the government used to be able to incarcerate one for one’s comments, even under the First Amendment. The modern view of the First Amendment, he said, appeared in a dissent by Oliver Wendell Holmes.  

Dhanidina also mentioned the dissent’s ability to maintain the credibility of the court and give voice in society to those who disagree.

“Courts really only work if people think that they work,” he said. “The same way that democracy only works if people participate.”

Dhanidina said that in today’s world, where there is a certain fluidity to the truth, dissent is more important than ever. Ultimately, arguing both sides allows us to figure out which side has less merit. What we think is true today, he noted, may not be true tomorrow, and the only way to determine that is by looking at both sides of an argument.

“The moment we stop being skeptical, the moment we stop allowing other people to be skeptical of us, is when society is doomed,” he said.

Claremont Journal of Law and Public Policy leader April Xiaoyi Xu PO ’18 said that the journal brought Dhanidina to campus because of his status as an alum, his standing as the first Muslim judge in California, and because “he’s a law professor, so he knows both the academic side and the practical side [of the law].”

According to Xu, Dhanidina attended several events that day. After the talk at the Athenaeum, he spoke to the Muslim Student Association and Pomona Professor of Politics Amanda Hollis-Brusky’s constitutional law class.

Xu said that she enjoyed the talk, finding it very informative and easy to understand for those who don’t know about law.

“I think the central message is how important dissent is to American society and especially the legal system and the judicial decision-making process,” she said. 

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