As U.S. senators representing the State of Arizona, we celebrated a truly historic moment last year, on May 14, 2014, when the Senate voted unanimously to confirm Diane Humetewa as a federal district judge in the District of Arizona. With this vote, Judge Humetewa, a member of the Hopi Nation, became the first Native American woman to serve on the federal bench—and only the third Native American to have ever been confirmed to the federal judiciary.
Judge Humetewa’s overall career has evinced a commitment to public service, more specifically, a commitment to serving the Hopi Nation in furthering justice, victims’ rights, and the rule of law—at times in circumstances complicated by the unique nature of tribal matters.
Born in Phoenix, Arizona, Judge Humetewa is a life-long Arizonan. She was raised both on the Hopi Nation and in the Phoenix metropolitan area. A first-generation graduate, she received her bachelor’s degree and juris doctor from Arizona State University (ASU). Her decision to attend law school and pursue a legal career was based, in part, on her first post-college job as a crime victim advocate in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. There, she learned firsthand of the reach of the federal courts into tribal communities, like hers, and the impact of the federal judicial system on tribal members, laws, and policies. Her exposure to the federal courts and trial advocacy piqued her desire to attend law school. Eventually, she would use her collective personal and professional experiences to develop heightened awareness about justice issues facing tribal nations.
Before she assumed her place on the federal bench in Phoenix, Judge Humetewa’s distinguished career included time at the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs under the leadership of then-Chairman John McCain, where she worked as a law intern and eventually as the Committee’s deputy chief counsel. She also served as counsel and special assistant to the Office of Tribal Justice at the Department of Justice and volunteered her time as an appellate court judge to the Hopi Tribe for many years.
Judge Humetewa’s public service extends to her volunteer work as a board member for organizations such as the Udall Foundation, the ASU Indian Legal Advisory Council, the Hopi Education Endowment Foundation, and the Phoenix Chapter of the Nature Conservancy. She also volunteers her time to teach at countless law symposiums and conferences in Arizona and throughout the nation.
In 2007, with the strong recommendation of Senators McCain and Jon Kyl, Judge Humetewa was nominated and confirmed as U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona. Her two-year tenure there was marked by fairness and integrity. One hallmark of her tenure was ensuring that Arizona’s tribal leaders received information about the outcome of federal criminal and civil prosecutions arising on their lands. Throughout her career, Judge Humetewa has been an expert on Native American and tribal legal issues. She has employed her expertise through her writing and speaking on these complex legal questions and dedicated herself to improving the administration of justice within the Hopi community and across tribal lands nationwide.
Such experience, both personal and professional, is an invaluable asset to the District Court in Arizona, a state that is home to 22 reservations and a large Native American population. Given the current scope of federal jurisdiction on tribal matters, Judge Humetewa is serving on a court that is regularly tasked with deciding matters of significance to these tribes and individuals. Having a voice on the court who can speak to these issues with the depth of understanding such significance demands will not only elevate the quality of decisions on matters that come before her, but of the entire federal judiciary.
During the course of Judge Humetewa’s confirmation process in the U.S. Senate, and while it was being considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which Senator Jeff Flake is a member, we heard from individuals in the state that the Arizona bench “would be enriched by a member who reflects the community it serves.” This recognition reflects the ideal that can be traced back to the Magna Carta—that we should be judged by a jury of our peers. Furthering this notion, federal law says that a jury must include a “fair cross section of the community in the district or division wherein the court convenes.”
While these ideals apply to juries, they are no less important for the judiciary. A diverse federal judiciary increases the public’s trust in our legal system and ensures equality under the law. With a rich cultural background and extensive experience working on Native American issues, Judge Humetewa adds an important perspective to the federal bench—from which the entire legal system will benefit. We know she is poised to serve with honor and look forward to her impact on the State of Arizona and the entire nation for years to come.
Senator John McCain is the senior United States senator representing the State of Arizona and is and former Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.
Senator Jeff Flake is a United States senator representing Arizona, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives.