Diane Humetewa made history in Arizona on Wednesday as the first Native woman federal judge elected to the U.S. District Court. She was voted in unanimously in a 96-0 vote and will fill one of the six vacancies on the federal bench. Humetewa is the first woman and the third Native in American history to be confirmed as a federal judge.
Humetewa is a two-time graduate of Arizona State University (ASU). She received her Bachelor of Arts in 1987 and her Juris Doctor degree in 1993 from ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, where she subsequently taught as a Professor of Practice. She has also served as a special advisor of American Indian Affairs to ASU President Michael Crow. An active member of the Hopi tribe, she has served for the Hopi as an appellate judge since 2002.
The Honorable Judge Humetewa was a U.S. attorney for Arizona from 2007 to 2009 following the midterm dismissal of Paul Charlton and six other U.S. attorneys under the George W. Bush administration. Her appointment in 2007 marked the first Native American appointed to U.S. attorney by the President of the United States.
Arizona’s federal District Court declared a judicial emergency in 2011 following the murder of John Roll, former Chief District Court Judge. Roll was one of six killed, and several people were wounded, including former U.S. representative Gabrielle Giffords. The U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona is one of the busiest in the country. Bordering Mexico, Arizona is met with a large amount of citizenship cases and constant population growth. With Humetewa’s help, the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona will get back on track with Native American issues at the forefront.
Out of the six federal judges confirmed between May 14 and 15, Humetewa’s confirmation is important because Arizona sees high numbers of tribe and Native American related cases. Charlton said, “In this state more than any other, where we have 21 reservations and all felony offenses are tried in federal court, we do not have a bench that reflects the community it serves.”
The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) released a statement congratulating Humetewa upon her confirmation, saying “NCAI greatly appreciates the efforts of the president and Senate in achieving this historic confirmation. We eagerly anticipate many more nominations of Native people to the federal bench and other offices.”
Humetewa’s victory draws a direct connection between American Indian tribes and the federal judiciary, especially for Native women. She is currently the only Native American in active service on the bench. NCAI said, “Judge Humetewa had spent time to serving the interests of Native peoples.”
Effective immediately, Humetewa will be filling the seat vacated by Judge Mary Murguia, who was elevated to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in early January 2011. In a statement to ASU News, Humetewa says, “I feel privileged to serve in this new capacity and I am certainly grateful for all of the support that President Crow and the ASU community offered me throughout the confirmation process.”