Native American Woman Nominated to Arizona Federal Bench

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Native American Woman Nominated to Arizona Federal Bench

Jessica Mason Pieklo

If confirmed, Diane J. Humetewa will be the only active member of a Native American tribe to serve as a federal judge, and the first Native American woman to do so.

President Obama has announced the nomination of Diane J. Humetewa to the federal bench in Arizona. If confirmed, Huemetewa will be the only active member of a Native American tribe to serve as a federal judge, and the first Native American woman to do so.

Humetewa served as an appellate court judge for the Hopi Tribe Appellate Court before former President George W. Bush nominated her to serve as a U.S. attorney in Arizona; she served in that position from 2007 to 2009. Humetewa currently serves as a special adviser to the president of Arizona State University on American Indian affairs.

Arizona currently has six judicial vacancies, and one of the heaviest workloads in the country. According to the federal court’s own records, Arizona had the fourth-highest number of criminal felony filings in the country last year and the sixth-highest number of total federal court filings. In 2011, former Chief Judge John Roll was killed in the shooting that wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Since then, only one of the open judicial seats has been filled.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), in a statement of support of Humetewa’s nomination, urged the Senate to move on all the nominations and start to bring an end to the standoff between conservatives and the Obama administration over the future of the federal courts. “The recent judicial vacancies in Arizona have created an unsustainable situation for the court and are a serious impediment to the administration of justice for the people of Arizona,” McCain said. “The need to fill these vacancies is critical as the District of Arizona ranks as one of the top ten busiest district courts in the country.”

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Humetewa’s nomination came the same day as the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the nomination of Nina Pillard to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. But unlike Pillard, who has become the target of Republican filibuster threats over her positions on gender equality and abstinence-only education, Humetewa is expected to face an easy confirmation process.

As reported by Indian Country Today Media Network, President Obama had been under increasing pressure from tribal leaders and legal advocates to nominate a Native American person to the federal bench. A nomination of a Native American person to the U.S. District Court of Arizona was a good choice then, given the large number of Native law cases heard in the federal court.

In addition to nominating Humetewa, President Obama also nominated Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Douglas Rayes of Scottsdale and U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven Logan and John Tuchi to fill the open federal judicial vacancies in Arizona. They join Rosemary Marquez, who has been waiting for more than two years for a hearing on her nomination to the Arizona federal bench as well. Marquez, a former public defender and private practice attorney, had her nomination blocked in 2012 by Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl. In January, President Obama re-nominated Marquez to fill the slot. In his statement of support for Humetewa, Sen. McCain urged the Senate Judiciary Committee to consider all “five very capable nominees as soon as possible and allow the full Senate to swiftly confirm them,” suggesting a changed position on Marquez’s nomination.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has not said when it will take up the nominations.