Before she worked as a prosecutor at the U.S. Attorney’s office in Arizona, she was a victims advocate there. Her peers noticed her ability to establish a rapport and communicate well with Native crime victims, so they urged her to apply to law school. “I have that level of familiarity that other people have to learn about,” Humetewa said. She said despite the low numbers of American Indian judges, the data is improving considering the 2010 U.S. Census data says American Indians make up only 1.7 percent of the national population, Native children are just beginning to attend colleges and other demographics have generations of family members who are lawyers. “It’s going to take an amount of time,” she said. “I think it’s a natural progression of what we’re seeing.” Humetewa also said her journey to the U.S. District Court wasn’t a sudden occurrence. “A lot of people overlook the fact that I’ve been a lawyer before I got the nomination, I was practicing law for 20 years,” she said. She recommends that Native Americans who want to be part of the judicial system gain experience with federal cases and court practices. “In my view, Native people who are interested in these kinds of positions eventually have to have in depth experience in practicing federal courts, at least some familiarity in state positions to the extent of state judgeships,” she said. She mentions that selecting federal judges are political decisions, too. “Sadly if you don’t have the right political affiliations, that is going to be a detriment to any Native American person if they are of the wrong political stripe,” she said. John Echohawk, executive director of the Native American Rights Fund, a non-profit organization dedicated to provide legal assistance to Indian tribes, organizations and individuals, agrees that the political scene is one obstacle Native Americans face to join the judiciary field. “We just need to keep recruiting and keep educating young law students coming up about the need and hope for the best, everyone is working on it,” he said. One initiative the Native American Rights Fund is part of is the Federal Judicial Selection Project that was developed by tribal leaders in 2001. It was created to educate both federal judiciary about tribal laws and vice versa. “These programs are on-going and hopefully will produce some results,” Echohawk said. From his perspective in the beginning of his law education, Native Americans in law are gradually increasing, but it’s a waiting game. According to the Federal Judicial Center, only three Native Americans have been federal judges in history. “From the time I was in law school, 50 years ago, we had 25 Native American attorneys who were able to be identified nationally, now we have over 2500 Native American lawyers.”
Those responsible for staffing the federal judiciary believe America’s “representative democracy” should stretch only so far as representing the second-most selective country club in Mississippi.— American Progress (@amprog) February 13, 2020
The federal judiciary does not resemble America.https://t.co/ZfvekKdQvY
The Center for American Progress found that “people of color make up just 20 percent of all sitting judges and 27 percent of active judges. In all, African Americans comprise 10 percent of sitting judges and 13 percent of active judges, while Hispanic judges make up about 7 percent and 9 percent of sitting and active judges, respectively. Asian Americans comprise an even smaller proportion of the lower federal courts: Only 2.5 percent of active judges and 4 percent of sitting judges are Asian American.” The data for women is similar. “Five district courts, or 5 percent, have no sitting female judges. That number doubles when considering active judges: In all, 10 federal district courts, or 11 percent, have no actively serving female judges on the bench,” the report said. And on the other side of the metric, among active judges, there are 39 courts, almost half, that are entirely composed of white judges, the report said. “Active judges of color comprise at least half of the bench on only 13 district courts — 14 percent. Just one district court—the District Court of Puerto Rico—entirely comprises judges of color.” And at the appellate court level, although people of color comprise roughly 40 percent of the U.S. general population, they make up just 17 percent of sitting circuit court judges and 23 percent of active judges. The report said “there is not a single circuit court where judges of color comprise more than 36 percent of the bench and the 7th Circuit has no judges of color at all.”\
Note: This story originally appeared on Indian Country Today on March 8, 2020.