Former Arizona U.S. Attorney Set to Make History After Nomination to Federal Bench
By Mary Jacoby | January 6, 2014 6:14 pm

Former Arizona U.S. Attorney Diane J. Humetewa’s nomination to serve on the U.S. District Court in Arizona is one for the history books.

Diane Humetewa

If confirmed, as appears likely now that the Senate filibuster for judicial and executive branch nominees has been abolished, Humetewa would be the only active member of an American Indian tribe to serve currently as a federal judge – and the first female American Indian to sit on the bench. A member of the Hopi tribe, Humetewa would also be only the third American Indian to serve as a federal judge in history, according to Indian Country Today.

When she served as Arizona’s top federal prosecutor during the George W. Bush administration, from 2007 to 2009, Humetewa was the first female American Indian to rise to a U.S. Attorney position. But she almost didn’t get there.

According to emails released by the House Judiciary Committee in 2009, Bush administration officials tried to sink her U.S. Attorney nomination. Scott Jennings, then a special assistant to President Bush, called her “simply unacceptable” in a Feb. 16, 2007 e-mail to then-White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove.

“DOJ believes (and we concur) that Humetewa is not a viable candidate to be the U.S. Attorney for the following reasons,” Jennings wrote. Alas, the reasons were redacted in the email released by the then-Democratic led Judiciary Committee, which at the time was investigating what appeared to be the politically motivated firings of nine U.S. Attorneys.

“Replace Blanquita,” Rove replied, using an apparent racial epithet for the Latina-looking Humetewa.

Humetewa’s patron was Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), for whom she had worked on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. McCain was Bush’s bitter rival for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000.

But McCain prevailed, and Humetewa was confirmed. She succeeded one of the fired U.S. Attorneys, Paul Charlton, who testified in the Senate in 2007 that he clashed with then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales over his opposition to seeking the federal death penalty, including in one case in which no body had been recovered. Gonzales was forced to resign following the uproar over the U.S. Attorney firings.

Charlton was succeeded by Dennis K. Burke, who himself had to resign over the fallout from the botched Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigation of gun trafficking on the southwest border known as Fast and Furious.

President Barack Obama nominated Humetewa for the federal bench in September, but the first session of the 113th Congress expired without action, and her nomination was re-sent to the Senate today.

American Indian leaders have been pressing the Obama administration to nominate a tribal member to the bench, according to Indian Country Today. A 2011 nomination of a Kiowa tribe member, Oklahoma City Assistant U.S. Attorney Arvo Mikkanen, to serve on the federal bench in Oklahoma failed in the Senate under opposition from Oklahoma’s two Republican senators, James Inhofe and Tom Coburn.

Humetewa currently serves as special advisor to the president and special counsel in the Office of General Counsel at Arizona State University, where she is also a Professor of Practice at ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. She received her J.D. in 1993 from Arizona State University College of Law and her B.S. in 1987 from Arizona State University. From 2002 to 2007, was an Appellate Court Judge for the Hopi Tribe Appellate Court.

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