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The federal courthouse in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Photo: AlexiusHoratius
Three seeking U.S. District judge position including 2 Native attorneys
Former Congresswoman Herseth Sandlin in running

SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota — Two Native American lawyers with impressive resumes are seeking an appointment to the federal bench.

Tracey Zephier and Sarah Collins are vying with former Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin for the seat to be vacated by U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey Viken of Rapid City, who will move to senior status on September 1.

President Joe Biden will make the decision on who will replace Viken. It’s a lifetime appointment and requires the approval of the U.S. Senate.

Biden also will name appointees to several other South Dakota posts, including U.S. attorney, U.S. marshal and two leadership positions in U.S. Department of Agriculture posts. Those jobs regularly turn over when there is a change in presidential administrations.

The federal judge post, however, only opens when a judge retires or dies. South Dakota has five federal judges, all of whom were appointed by either President Bill Clinton or President Barack Obama.

Zephier, a Sturgis resident, is the attorney general of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. She said she is “indeed interested in the position.”

Zephier was the executive director of the South Dakota Equal Justice Commission, which was created by the South Dakota Supreme Court. Zephier, known then as Tracey Fischer, was a law clerk for South Dakota Chief Justice Robert A. Miller in 2019-20.

She earned undergraduate degrees in business management and accounting from National University in Rapid City and received her law degree from Yale University in 1999.

Zephier has worked in private business, as a banker and in economic development, and taught at the University of South Dakota School of Law and Oglala Lakota College. Zephier’s heritage reflects South Dakota, since her mother was Lakota Sioux while her father was of Norwegian ancestry.

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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

Collins is an assistant U.S. attorney based in Rapid City who has been with the Department of Justice for more than 10 years. She serves as the office’s senior litigation counsel.

Collins earned her undergraduate degree from Colorado State University and her law degree at the University of Colorado in Boulder. She was a deputy district attorney, senior deputy DA and then chief deputy DA in Colorado before returning to South Dakota in 2010.

During her career, she has acted as lead counsel in over 160 trials before state and federal courts in a variety of case types including violent crimes in Indian Country, child internet exploitation, firearms offenses and white collar crimes, according to her resume.

Collins received the 2020 U.S. Attorney General’s Award for Exceptional Service in Indian Country for the prosecution of former Indian Health Services Dr. Stanley Weber. She also authored a nationwide curriculum on tribal and local law enforcement on topics of search and seizure.

Collins also served on the U.S. Attorney General’s Advisory Board on Internet Crimes and was named to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime National Coordination Committee on American Indian/Alaska Native Sexual Assault Response.

She grew up in Rapid City and now lives in Box Elder, but her family’s roots are on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. She is a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. She is the step-daughter of Native Sun News Today Publisher Tim Giago, Oglala Lakota.

Collins confirmed she is a candidate for the position but does not know how the process will play out.

“I have no idea where it’s headed,” she said.

Copyright permission Native Sun News Today