Senate confirms first Native woman federal judge

by The Associated Press

Hopi citizen Diane Humetewa
Hopi citizen Diane Humetewa

PHOENIX (AP) – A former U.S. Attorney from Arizona will be the first Native American woman to serve on the federal bench.

Hopi citizen Diane Humetewa easily won confirmation on May 14 in the U.S. Senate in a 96-0 vote. The four senators who didn’t vote were Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Christopher Coons (D-Del.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.)

She will fill one of six vacancies in the federal District Court of Arizona.

Humetewa currently serves as special counsel at Arizona State University, where she is also a professor.

She served as U.S. Attorney for Arizona between 2007 and 2009.

She also was an appellate court judge for the Hopi Tribe.

The National Congress of American Indians praised the confirmation, saying Humetewa has dedicated her time to serving the interests of Native peoples.

“The National Congress of American Indians congratulates Diane J. Humetewa of the Hopi Indian Tribe on her confirmation as federal judge in the U.S. District Court of Arizona. As the newest member of the federal bench, she is the first Native American woman ever appointed to serve in that position,” a NCAI press release states. “The Honorable Humetewa is impeccably qualified for her new role. She has practiced law in federal courts for over a decade – as Special Assistant U.S. Attorney, as Assistant U.S. Attorney, and as the U.S. Attorney for Arizona – and is experienced in a wide array of complex proceedings, hearings, and cases. Further, Judge Humetewa has dedicated time to serving the interests of Native peoples. She has been the Appellate Court judge for the Hopi Tribe, counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and special advisor to the President on American Indian Affairs at Arizona State University. NCAI greatly appreciates the efforts of the President and Senate in achieving this historic confirmation. 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.”

The overburdened District Court of Arizona remains one of the busiest in the country, having declared a judicial emergency in 2011

Humetewa Close to Becoming First Female Native on Federal Bench


Hopi citizen Diane Humetewa smiled through a positive nomination hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 28 in her effort to be confirmed as a U.S. district judge in Arizona.

President Barack Obama nominated Humetewa to the position in 2013 after his administration previously forced her to step down from a U.S. attorney position in Arizona in 2009. At that time, the president chose Dennis Burke to take her position, but Burke resigned in August 2011 after admitting to leaking information about a federal agent. Humetewa went on to become a professor and lawyer at Arizona State University.

RELATED: Obama Nominates Native American Woman to Federal Court

Many in Indian country were glad that Obama decided to give Humetewa a second look, this time to become the first female Native American to serve on the federal bench. She would be only the third Indian to do so in history if confirmed to the position by the full Senate.

Judging from support given to her by both Democratic and Republican senators at her nomination hearing, she will likely easily pass the committee, and then her nomination will proceed for consideration by the full Senate.

One of Humetewa’s main champions is Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) who recommended her for both her previous U.S. attorney position and for the federal judgeship. The senator, whom she previously worked for when he led the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, introduced her with supportive remarks at the confirmation hearing.

“It has been said that the Arizona bench ‘would be enriched by a member who reflects the community it serves.’ With that in mind, I am particularly excited about our third nominee, Diane J. Humetewa, also to the District of Arizona, in Phoenix,” McCain said. “Ms. Humetewa’s nomination is truly historic: Being a member of the Hopi Nation, if Ms. Humetewa is confirmed, she would be the first Native American woman to ever serve on the federal bench.

“Ms. Humetewa’s service to the Hopi Nation, which includes work as prosecutor and an appellate court judge to the tribe, runs deep and has remained a cornerstone of her career,” McCain added. “She is also a long-time advocate for victim’s rights, which can be traced back to her service as a victim advocate before she attended law school.”

McCain’s support for Humetewa serves as a stark contrast to his criticism of the president’s nomination of Cherokee citizen Keith Harper to become a U.S. representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Harper’s nomination stalled in the Senate last December due partly to McCain’s concerns about Harper’s human rights record, but Harper was re-nominated earlier in January to the same position by the president.

RELATED: McCain Prompts New Questions and Investigations Involving Harper’s U.N. Nomination

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), who chaired the hearing, said that she was impressed that McCain and committee member Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) worked in a bipartisan fashion with the White House to help fill several Arizona judicial vacancies.

Humetewa said at the hearing that she was very pleased to be joined by family members, friends and colleagues. She added that her parents were watching the hearing via webcam from back home on the Hopi reservation.

In response to a question from Hirono regarding how her past judicial work with the Hopi Tribe would help her in this position, Humetewa said that she learned to be objective and timely in her decision making during her time with that tribal court.

In response to a question from Flake on the implementation of pro-tribal elements of the Violence Against Women Act and the Tribal Law and Order Act, Humetewa noted that both laws are in their infancy, but she said she looks forward to working with tribes that take on the increased jurisdictional opportunities offered under those laws.

Also in response to a question from Flake, Humetewa noted that she helped prepare a 2007 report by the Native American Subcommittee of the U.S. Sentencing Commission that found disparities in the application of sentencing guidelines to Native Americans. Penalties were harsher for Indians who committed assaults in Indian country versus non-Indian who were sentenced in state courts for similar assaults, she testified. If sentencing guidelines are to be modified in the future, she said tribal consultation would be important to achieve.

Flake, impressed with Humetewa’s responses, said he was delighted by her “trailblazing way.”



NCAI Applauds President’s Nominations of Diane Humetewa and John Tuchi for Federal District Court Judge in Arizona;

Confirmation will make Humetewa First American Indian Woman Federal Judge
Source: The National Congress of American Indians
Washington, DC – The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) has endorsed President Obama’s nomination of Diane J. Humetewa from the Hopi Tribe to serve as a United States District Court Judge for the District of Arizona. Senator John McCain of Arizona is credited with recommending the nomination. Upon confirmation, Humetewa will be the first American Indian woman in history to serve as a federal judge. Humetewa served as the United States Attorney for the District of Arizona from 2007 to 2009 under President George W. Bush.
NCAI also endorsed the President’s nomination of John Joseph Tuchi to serve as a United States District Court Judge for the District of Arizona. Tuchi’s service as Tribal Liaison from 2009-2012 demonstrated his knowledge of federal Indian law and his commitment to the critical role of tribes in the American family of governments. His nomination has the strong support of tribes in Arizona.
“These nominations are a significant step forward for Indian Country. Diane Humetewa is highly qualified and has been recognized and nominated for important federal positions by both Present Obama and President Bush. John Tuchi is highly qualified and has a strong record of upholding the trust responsibility to tribal nations. NCAI endorses the President’s nominations and we urge the Senate to move quickly to confirm them both,” said NCAI President Jefferson Keel.
“This also represents a great step forward for the federal courts. For many years we have stressed the importance of including Native Americans in the federal judiciary. Senator McCain should be applauded for recommending the nomination of Ms. Humetewa,” added Keel. “We have also underscored the need for all federal judges to understand federal Indian law. Mr. Tuchi has a firsthand understanding of the importance of federal Indian law, an asset that is far too rare among federal judges.”
NCAI First Vice Present Juana Majel also praised the nomination of Humetewa. “In 2013 we have witnessed the passage of the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization that included extraordinarily important protections for Native women. With the nomination of Diane Humetewa to be the first Native woman to be a federal judge, 2013 is truly a landmark year for Native women.”
Biographies provided by the White House:
Diane J. Humetewa: Nominee for the United States District Court for the District of Arizona
Diane J. Humetewa currently serves as Special Advisor to the President and Special Counsel in the Office of General Counsel at Arizona State University.  She is also a Professor of Practice at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.  From 2009 to 2011, Humetewa was Of Counsel with Squire, Sanders & Dempsey LLP.  She worked in the United States Attorney’s Office in the District of Arizona from 1996 to 2009, serving as Senior Litigation Counsel from 2001 to 2007 and as the United States Attorney from 2007 to 2009.  During her tenure in the United States Attorney’s Office, Humetewa also served as Counsel to the Deputy Attorney General from 1996 to 1998.  From 1993 to 1996, she was Deputy Counsel for the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.  Humetewa received her J.D. in 1993 from Arizona State University College of Law and her B.S. in 1987 from Arizona State University.  She is a member of the Hopi Indian Tribe and, from 2002 to 2007, was an Appellate Court Judge for the Hopi Tribe Appellate Court. 
John Joseph Tuchi: Nominee for the United States District Court for the District of Arizona
John Joseph Tuchi has been an Assistant United States Attorney in the District of Arizona since 1998.  He currently serves as Chief Assistant United States Attorney in the office and has previously served as Interim United States Attorney in 2009, Senior Litigation Counsel and Tribal Liaison from 2009 to 2012, and as Chief of the Criminal Division from 2006 to 2009.  Tuchi also worked as an associate at the law firm of Brown & Bain, P.A. from 1995 to 1998.  He began his legal career as a law clerk for Judge William C. Canby of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  Tuchi received his J.D. magna cum laude in 1994 from Arizona State University College of Law, his M.S. in 1989 from the University of Arizona, and his B.S. in 1987 from West Virginia University.