Judicial Selection Project

Attorney: Richard A. Guest

The Judicial Selection Project is about research and education: to educate the federal judiciary about tribal issues; to educate tribal leaders about the federal judiciary and the judicial nominations process; and to reach out to elected officials and the public at large about the need for judges in the federal courts who understand the unique legal status of Indian tribes. The research objective of the Project evaluates the records of judicial nominees on their knowledge of Indian issues. The analysis and conclusions are shared with tribal leaders and federal decision-makers in relation to their decision whether to support or oppose a particular nomination. The Project works with the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to ensure that all nominees are asked about their experience with Indian tribes and their understanding of federal Indian law during confirmation proceedings.

As part of its outreach to Indian country, the Obama Administration continues to seek the names of qualified Native American attorneys, tribal court judges and state court judges who are interested in being considered for vacancies on the federal bench. On September 19, 2013, President Obama announced his nomination of Diane J. Humetewa, an enrolled member of the Hopi Tribe, to the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. Ms. Humetewa is a well-qualified Native American nominee who served as the United States Attorney for the District of Arizona from 2007-2009. Prior to her appointment, she served as Counsel to the Deputy Attorney General and as Senior Litigation Counsel within the U.S. Attorney’s Office. From 1993 to 1996, she was Deputy Counsel for the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs for the Chairman, Senator John McCain. At this time, no hearing on her nomination has been scheduled by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Early this past summer, NARF was also invited to the White House for the President’s announcement of three nominations to fill vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit-sometimes referred to as the second most powerful court in the United States. Through the work of the Tribal Supreme Court Project, NARF has worked closely with one of the nominees, Patricia Millett, in her capacity as a partner, head of the Supreme Court Practice, and co-leader of the National Appellate Practice at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, LLP. NARF has submitted a letter of support on her behalf to the Senate Judiciary Committee for her confirmation.

The education objective of the Project seeks to replicate the success of the historic visit by Supreme Court Justices O’Connor and Breyer to reservation communities during the summer of 2001. Since then, judges from the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Tenth Circuit and Eighth Circuit have attended the NCAI Conferences held in Sacramento, Denver and Rapid City respectively. In August 2011 during the Eighth Circuit Judicial Conference, Chief Judge Riley was joined by Supreme Court Justice Alito on a tour of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in a visit coordinated by NCAI and the South Dakota Tribes. In September 2011, Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor visited the Jemez Pueblo, the Santa Domingo Pueblo, the Leadership Institute at the Santa Fe Indian School and the University of New Mexico. During her stay, she expressed her view that a Justice needs to focus on only a few key priorities if they want to make a difference beyond their formal work on the Court. As pet projects, she said that she has prioritized education and American Indian law. At the recent Tenth Circuit Judicial Conference held in Colorado Springs, John Echohawk was able to meet and talk with Justice Sotomayor regarding a possible visit to Indian country.

Read More: Develop Indian Law and educate the public about Indian rights, laws, and issues