Some interesting developments occurring with Federal Court nominees:
“Responding to widespread requests from tribal leaders and Indian legal advocates, President Barack Obama has nominated a Native American to serve on the federal bench.
The president announced September 19 that Diane J. Humetewa is a nominee for the U.S. District Court for Arizona. She is a Hopi citizen, and from 2002 to 2007 she served as an appellate court judge for the Hopi Tribe Appellate Court.”
If Humetewa can pass muster with the Senate Judicial Committee and Arizona’s senators, then she will have the distinction of being the first Native American appointed and confirmed to the federal bench by Obama. It is already known that she has a strong ally in U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) who previously recommended her for a U.S. attorney position during George W. Bush’s second term.
Indian affairs experts had been pressuring the president to make another Native American federal judgeship appointment – several more, in fact – citing the large number of Indian law cases heard in federal courts and the U.S. Supreme Court’s tendency not to understand tribal law.
“I’m not really voting against the nominees,” explains Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah. “I’m voting against packing the court.”
“Packing the court” is a phrase Hatch and many other Republicans have been using to draw a parallel between Obama and what the late President Franklin Delano Roosevelt threatened to do when the Supreme Court kept striking down his New Deal legislation.
“It’s not historically accurate,” says Sid Shapiro, who teaches law at Wake Forest University, but “it’s a great phrase.”
Shapiro says the court-packing analogy doesn’t work here because Roosevelt had wanted to add seats to the Supreme Court — while Obama is just trying to fill existing seats on the D.C. Circuit. That’s actually what presidents get to do when they win an election.
But Republicans know Obama can tilt a now evenly divided roster of active judges toward Democratic appointees by filling the three vacancies. And it’s a court that’s considered a top priority. Four of the nine justices on the Supreme Court once sat on this bench. Half of the D.C. Circuit’s cases involve challenges to federal regulations — meaning environmental rules, labor policy and billions of dollars are at stake.