by Mary Smith, enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, President of the National Native American Bar Association
On May 14, 2014, history was made with the confirmation of Diane Humetewa (pictured) to be a district court judge in the United States District Court for the District Court of Arizona. Ms. Humetewa, an enrolled member of the Hopi Tribe, is the first Native American woman in the history of our nation to serve on the federal judiciary, and will be the only American Indian serving as an Article III judge in the federal judiciary. She previously served as the Senate-confirmed U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona, and earlier in her career, she worked as an attorney on the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee under then Chairman John McCain and as an Appellate Judge on the Hopi Appellate Court. Ms. Humetewa was confirmed unanimously by the U.S. Senate with a final vote of 96-0.
In addition to being the first Native American women, she is only the third American Indian to serve as a federal district court judge with the first two being men from Oklahoma. Judge Frank Howell Seay was appointed by President Carter in 1979. Billy Michael Burrage, the last American Indian appointed to the federal bench, was confirmed during the Clinton administration. Unfortunately, as of May 2014, there are 874 Article III federal judgeships in the United States—nine on the Supreme Court, 179 on the Courts of Appeals, 677 on the District Courts and nine on the Court of International Trade – and now only one of these judgeships is held by an American Indian or Alaska Native. The Honorable Derrick Watson, serving as a district judge in the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii, is Native Hawaiian and was confirmed on April 18, 2013. In addition, out of the population of federal magistrates in this country, only one – the Honorable Leo Brisbois in Minnesota – is Native American.