Diane Humetewa: First Native American Woman To Become Federal Judge Hailed As Trailblazer

Diane Humetewa is being hailed as a trailblazer after the Senate voted unanimously to make her the first Native American woman to become a federal judge in United States history.

Humetewa, a citizen of the Hopi Tribe, was appointed by a vote of 96-0. She worked as a US attorney for Arizona during the George W. Bush administration and was nominated for her position by President Barack Obama in 2013.

Her appointment was hailed by Native American groups, which said her confirmation is a big step toward correcting a history of low or non-existent representation.

“Let’s hope Diane’s confirmation is just the start of a slew of Native American federal judges,” said Chris Stearns (Navajo), who previously served as counsel to the House Natural Resources Committee. “There is still a massive lack of representation of Indian judges in the federal courts.”

The National Congress of American Indians also hailed the appointment of Diane Humetewa, saying she was “impeccably qualified” for the position.

“There are many qualified, talented people like Diane Humetewa in Indian Country who are able and willing to serve,” the organization noted in a press release via the Native Times. “We eagerly anticipate many more nominations of Native people to the federal bench and other offices.”

The appointment of Diane Humetewa is more than just a nod to an underrepresented minority, said Bert Brandenberg, executive director of the non-profit Justice at Stake organization. Her role will be pivotal as the federal government defines federal Native American laws, Brandenberg said.

“With the confirmation of Judge Humetewa, the Senate has taken an important step toward broadening the makeup of the federal courts,” he said. “Increasing representation of Native Americans on the federal bench is especially important because federal courts have an outsized authority in defining what’s known as federal Indian law. As a result, Native American people and tribal entities appear as parties in federal court proceedings at far higher rates than do non-Native Americans. Given this picture, the current lack of any active federal judges who are Native Americans is absolutely appalling.”

In her appointment, Humetewa earned praise from Senators on both sides of the aisle, with Senators Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, both from Arizona, serving as her main champions.

“Diane Humetewa has an impressive legal background, ranging from work as prosecutor and an appellate court judge to the Hopi Nation to service as U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona,” McCain said just before her nomination. “Plus, hers is a truly historic nomination. If confirmed, she would be the first Native American woman to ever serve on the federal bench.”

[Diane Humetewa image via Arizona State University]

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