Nahal Iravani Sani © Mark Tuschman

Judge Nahal Iravani-Sani

Country of Origin: Iran

Superior Court Judge

The 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran is what prompted our immigration here. My parents uprooted from their life back in Iran for the promise of freedom, education, and opportunities for my sister and me.

But despite the challenges, we loved being here. We did our best to assimilate wholeheartedly.

Fast forward to 1995. I was the first Iranian-American to be sworn in as a Deputy District Attorney in Santa Clara County. Talk about the land of opportunity!

I was a deputy district attorney for almost 23 years in Santa Clara County. Through time, especially the later years,  a lot of people started encouraging me to put in for the bench. I did a lot of soul-searching and reflecting, I discussed it with my husband, more reflecting and soul searching. Ultimately, I thought, I’m a public servant at my core. It’s what I’ve done my entire career. And being a judge, is the ultimate public service in the legal profession. I am not doing this for the status or the robe or the prestige, it’s for the public service. It is a natural extension of my life’s work. Once I had that epiphany with myself, I decided to put in for it. 

To become a judge, you either go the appointment route or the election route. Election route involves  a lot of fundraising and campaigning. I decided to go the appointment route. The appointment route involves extensive vetting by the Governor’s office, with screening and recommendation by state judicial nomination and evaluation commission,  and the local bar association. It involves an initial application with 74 questions, and subparts to each question. If one passes through the initial screening, you are asked to submit a list of 75 personal references in addition to the names of opposing counsel, the judges you’ve appeared in front of, etc.  It’s long and intense. And then after the additional vetting, you go in for a series of interviews. The next stage is never guaranteed from one interview to the next to the next. Fortunately, I went through the process and about last year this time, I heard the news. I was appointed by Governor Brown, as the first Iranian- American judge in Santa Clara County. 

When people hear  “Iranian-American”, I hope their first perception or reaction reflects the kindness and hospitable nature of our culture. I certainly hope their first image of us isn’t “axis of evil” or “terrorist” or other inaccurate and derogatory terms thrown around. Because if one truly studies Iranian Americans and their contribution to the U.S., they will find that we are one of the most prolific immigrant groups to the United States. Whether in medical sciences,  the tech industry or in public service, we are meaningful contributors to the fabric of America. I hope that people have a positive accurate image of who we actually are. The best way is to get to know your neighbors, your colleagues, ask questions, share a meal. Just interact and get to know the culture. I trust you will be touched by our warmth, and impressed by the drive and ambition of most. 

I hope to be a source of inspiration to young immigrants – of any background –  to demonstrate that it is doable. Hopefully by following my journey and knowing that English was my second language, hearing about my obstacles, but that I went on to become a judge will be motivating. This truly is the land of opportunity. If you work hard and stay disciplined, you will realize your highest aspirations, beyond what you may have even thought possible. In my own native country, in Iran, right now I would not be able to be a judge because women are not allowed to be judges. How ironic is that? I’m always grateful to America for being the land of opportunity and I also would like young people or immigrants to know that as long as you work hard, this is a place where truly you can realize your dreams and your hopes. 

I remember calling my parents to tell them about the governor’s office having called with news of my appointment. I will never forget how deeply happy they were. They still are!  My parents uprooted their lives, in the pinnacle of their lives, in the hopes of freedom, higher education, and better opportunities for their daughters. And my Judicial Investiture, taking the oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States, and putting on the judicial robe was the absolute culmination of all of their hard work and dreams. That moment, to me, captures two quintessential truths about this great country: America is the land of opportunity, and likewise, America is a nation of immigrants.