Civil movement

Indigenous judge awaits move on historic federal judicial appointment

Indianz.Com Video: Sunshine Judge Suzanne Sykes – Senate Judiciary Committee – February 1, 2022

Indigenous judge awaits move on historic federal judicial appointment

Monday, March 7, 2022

By Acee Agoyo


WASHINGTON, DC — The Senate Committee on the Judiciary has again scheduled a meeting to advance the nomination of another Indigenous woman to the federal bench. Sunshine Suzanne Sykes, a Navajo Nation citizen, has been waiting for the committee’s move for more than a month. Her confirmation hearing took place on February 1, when she spoke of her immense pride in her tribal background. “I wouldn’t be here today without the sacrifices and resilience of so many who have gone before me,” Sykes said in his opening statement to the committee. “I come from a long line of strong Mą’ii deeshgiizhinii Navajo women,” she added, using the Navajo language term for her clan. “The seed that brought me here existed a long time ago,” Sykes said during the hearing in the nation’s capital. “He was owned by my ancestors and nurtured by my great-grandmother, when she raised her family while herding sheep on the Navajo reservation.” “It grew in my grandmother when she entered residential school life,” Sykes said, referring to one of the many strong Navajo women in her background. “It germinated in my mother when, as a little girl, I saw her strength – even when she herself thought she had none – and it blossomed in me.”

Indianz.Com Audio: Sunshine Judge Suzanne Sykes – Senate Judiciary Committee – February 1, 2022
During the nomination hearing, Sykes faced no downright hostile questions from committee members. Two Republicans pressed her on questions involving interpretations of federal laws, to which she responded by promising to follow all applicable standards. “I’ve had the occasion where in a civil case I may not have known something and I’m doing the research to find out and research whatever I need to do to familiarize myself with that,” he said. Sykes told the senator. John Kennedy (R-Louisiana). Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) asked about a specific case from California, where Sykes is a judge on the Superior Court of Riverside County. She noted that her position on a state law affecting booking fees for defendants was later confirmed to be the correct one. “I did not insert any personal preference and our appellate district later discovered that in fact my interpretation was correct,” Sykes said in reference to the eventual resolution of the case, People of the State of California v. Kimsey.

Senate Committee on the Judiciary: Hearing of Nominations – February 1, 2022
Sykes was also warmly welcomed by the legislative panel. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Senator Alex Padilla (D-California) highlighted the historic nature of a judicial appointment in a state with the largest population of American Indians and Native Americans. Alaska. “She began her career at California Indian Legal Services, where she worked to address domestic violence issues in Indigenous communities,” Feinstein said of Sykes and her work before becoming a judge on a court of law. State. “She spent two years with the Juvenile Defense Panel where she worked as an attorney on behalf of minors in juvenile addiction and delinquency cases.” “In both of these roles, she has become a true expert on the legal issues related to the Indian Child Welfare Act,” Feinstein said of the landmark federal law whose fate is now in the hands of the US Supreme Court. United. California is home to more than 100 tribes, including more than a dozen in Riverside County. Sykes has been a judge there since 2013, when she became the first Indigenous person to sit on the county bench. “Over the past nine years, Judge Sykes has presided over nearly 100 civil, criminal and appellate cases,” said Padilla, a new Senate member. “She is a Superior Court leader, appointed Presiding Judge of the Appeals Chamber in 2019.” “She brings an impressive legal work ethic and a sense of empathy as a Central District judge,” Padilla added. “If confirmed, she will be the first Native American to serve in federal court in California.” Despite strong support from Democrats, who control the Senate, Sykes is still awaiting a move on his nomination. She was on the agenda for a business meeting on February 17 which was canceled due to a change in the schedule for the entire chamber. A subsequent March 3 business meeting with Sykes on the agenda was canceled at the last minute amid unrelated issues. Feinstein’s husband, Richard Charles Blum, died earlier this week and she remained at home in California following the loss.

Padilla tested positive for COVID-19 at the start of the work week and he too stayed away from the US Capitol. He and Feinstein missed the State of the Union on March 2. A March 10 business meeting now marks the third time Sykes has been on the committee’s agenda. A total of nine candidates, including six for the federal bench, are to be considered on Thursday.

Sunshine Suzanne Sykes, candidate for U.S. District Judge for the Central District of California, testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, DC February 1, 2022. Photo: REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz
Assuming Sykes is approved by the committee, the next step in the process would be a vote on the Senate floor. There is no timeline for a final confirmation vote, but Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) is already looking forward to that historic day. “Congratulations,” Hirono said during the Feb. 1 hearing, referring to the U.S. government’s many broken promises to Indigenous peoples. “You will be one of the few Native Americans to sit in federal court, if confirmed.” If confirmed as California’s first Native federal judge, Sykes joins another historic candidate. Last May, President Joe Biden nominated Lauren King, a citizen of the Muscogee Nation, to serve as a federal judge in Washington. King was confirmed by the Senate by a vote of 55 to 44 on October 5, making her the state’s first Indigenous judge. She serves on the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington. King is only the third Indigenous woman to serve as a federal judge. The first is Diane Humetewa, a citizen of the Hopi tribe who was named to the bench by then-Democratic President Barack Obama in 2014. She serves on the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. Additionally, Ada Brown, a citizen of the Choctaw Nation, is a judge for the Northern District of Texas. She was nominated by former Republican President Donald Trump and was confirmed to the bench in September 2019.

Senate Committee on Judicial Opinion

Management Business Meeting (March 10, 2022)

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