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The U.S. Supreme Court is seen behind barbed wire and barricades on 2nd Street NE in Washington, D.C. The more well-known entrance on 1st Street NE is currently unreachable by the general public following the violence at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
Notes from Indian Country
We need a Native American on the federal judge’s bench
Wednesday, February 24, 2021

My newspapers started to complain about the lack of Native Americans as federal judges in the 1980s mostly because of a man who served on the Supreme Court way back then.

His name was William Hubbs Rehnquist and he was an American lawyer and jurist who served on the Supreme Court of the United States for 33 years, as an associate justice from 1972 to 1986 and as Chief Justice from 1986 until his death in 2005. Considered a conservative, Rehnquist favored a conception of federalism that emphasized the Tenth Amendment’s reservation of powers to the states. Under this view of federalism, the court, for the first time since the 1930s, struck down an act of Congress as exceeding its power under the Commerce Clause.

He had a special drawer where he filed cases he thought little of and told his law clerks he would get around to them if he found the time. In the drawer were cases involving Native American tribes and Indian issues, cases he referred to as “shit cases.” Unfortunately, Rehnquist’s feelings about Native American issues filtered all of the way down through the federal court system.

Finally Diane Joyce Humetewa, Hopi, was confirmed in 2014 as the first Native American woman and enrolled tribal member to serve as a federal judge, Humetewa is one of three Native Americans in history to serve in this position. She served as United States District Judge in Arizona. A seat as a federal judge is about to open in South Dakota and me and my newspaper, Native Sun News Today, plus many tribal leaders, highly recommend Sara Boensch Collins for that seat.

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Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Collins, far left, received the the U.S. Attorney General’s Award, the highest award at the Department of Justice, for her work in prosecuting a former Indian Health Service pediatrician Stanley Patrick Weber for abuse of young male patients on two reservations. Photo: Department of Justice

The position is currently held by Judge Jeffrey L. Viken, who will be taking senior status. Jeff is an old friend of mine and has done a good job, but I believe it is time for a Native American to assume that job position.

Sarah, age 45, is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and a native Western South Dakotan. Her family has ranched on the Pine Ridge Reservation for five generations. When she was in high school she used to sit at the dining room table while I and her mother Lynn Rapp, talked about Native American issues. The issues ranged all of the way from Indian politics to Native spirituality. She listened and learned. After high school she went on to Colorado State University and earned a law degree.

Since then she has dedicated her career to civil service, starting with the District Attorney’s office in Adams County, Colorado, and continuing with ten years of service as an Assistant United States Attorney in Rapid City. She is currently the Senior Litigation Counsel for the District of South Dakota and has tried over 160 cases, giving her profound knowledge of the rules of criminal procedure, evidence and jury processes.

Sarah has diverse case experience, including white collar and civil rights cases, but she has focused on obtaining justice for crime victims, particularly children. She has been recognized for her work investigating and prosecuting purveyors and distributors of child pornography, including personally pursuing the investigation of a United States citizen for brutally beating and sexually abusing multiple boys from Guatemala. Sarah was selected for the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee on Internet Crimes and served two terms. She annually leads an undercover operation to catch internet predators during the Sturgis Bike Rally, resulting in the successful prosecution of 69 defendants.

Her dedication to serving crime victims has resulted in justice for hundreds of American Indian victims. Recently she obtained the landmark conviction of former Indian Health Service doctor Stanley Patrick Weber for his decades-long horrific sexual abuse of Native children across numerous reservations, earning her the Attorney General’s Award for Exceptional Service in Indian Country in January 2021.

She has been unafraid to prosecute police officers for acting outside their sworn duties and is a firm believer in effective criminal justice and sentencing reform. For many years she has trained law enforcement officers on the constitutional limits of their powers and authored the nationwide curriculum training officers on search and seizure and federal crime elements.

Sarah is a registered lifelong Democrat and contributor to Democratic and social justice causes. She interned for Sen. Tom Daschle both in Rapid City and Washington D.C. in the Morris K. Udall Internship Program for Native students. Given her position with the Department of Justice, she must carefully comply with the Hatch Act, and thus has decided it prudent to not otherwise participate in public political activities.

As a man who has known her since she was a teenager I know the strength of her integrity and dedication to fairness and justice.

As a Native American woman she will bring that special something to the federal bench that is, for the most part, non-existent.


Tim Giago (Oglala Lakota) is the founder of the Native American Journalists Association and of Indian Country Today. Contact him at najournalist1@gmail.com.