Diane Humetewa, a member of the Hopi tribe, a federally Native American tribe native to the Southwestern United States, and a former U.S. Attorney was confirmed by the U.S. Senate this week as the first female Native American judge in U.S. history.
Humetewa will serve on the Federal District Court of Arizona after being confirmed in a rare unanimous (96-0) vote. She has now been nominated for federal positions by both President George W. Bush and President Barrack Obama.
Her confirmation underscores just how underrepresented native American women have been in the judiciary. It also highlights the need of the U.S. District Court of Arizona, which declared in 2011 it had a judicial emergency due to the overwhelming number of case filings in the district per judge. Humetewa will fill one of the court’s six vacancies, one of which has been vacant since 2010.
Humetewa became Deputy Counsel for the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs after graduating from Arizona State University’s College of Law in 1993. In 1996 she joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona, where she became Senior Litigation Counsel in 2001. She was confirmed as U.S. Attorney in 2007 and served that role until 2009.
Since 2009, Humetewa has worked in private practice, served as counsel in Arizona State University’s Office of General Counsel and was a special advisor to President Obama. She also served as an appellate court judge for the Hopi Tribe Appellate Court from 2002 – 2007.
Ironically, Humetewa was nominated by President Barack Obama to the position in 2013 after his administration forced her to step down from her U.S. Attorney position in 2009.
Upon Humetewa’s confirmation, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) issued a statement saying that she is “impeccably qualified” for her new role.
“NCAI greatly appreciates the efforts of the president and Senate in achieving this historic confirmation,” the organization said. “There are many qualified, talented people like Diane Humetewa in Indian country who are able and willing to serve. We eagerly anticipate many more nominations of Native people to the federal bench and other offices.”
Bert Brandenburg, executive director of the non-profit Justice at Stake organization, said in a statement that the interests of justice are best served when judges reflect the broader society.
“With the confirmation of Judge Humetewa, the Senate has taken an important step toward broadening the makeup of the federal courts,” Brandenburg 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.”
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, also applauded the confirmation.
“Diane Humetewa is an inspiration to Native people, especially Native women across Indian country,” Tester said in a statement. This is an important appointment and long overdue. I’m pleased that the Senate came together in a bipartisan way to get this done. As the only Native American in active service on the federal bench, Diane provides much-needed expertise on the complexities of federal law and Indian sovereignty.”