Senate Confirms First Native American Federal Judge in California
The Senate voted Wednesday to confirm Sunshine Suzanne Sykes to a lifetime seat on the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, making her the state’s first-ever Native American federal judge and just the fifth Indigenous woman in U.S. history to serve on a federal court.
The Senate confirmed Sykes, 51-45.
Every Democrat present voted for her, along with three Republicans: Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska). Every other Republican present voted no. Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nevada) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) did not vote.
Sykes, 48, has been a California Superior Court judge since 2013. She previously served as deputy county counsel for Riverside County, and was a contract attorney for the Defense Panel at the Southwest Justice Center. From 2001 to 2003, Sykes also worked as a staff attorney for California Indian Legal Services.
Sykes joins four other Native American judges actively serving on the federal bench out of nearly 900 authorized federal judgeships. Those four are all women, and they are U.S. District Judges Lauren King, Diane Humetewa, Ada Brown, Lydia Kay Griggsby.
Carl Tobias, a federal judicial nominations expert and law professor at the University of Richmond, called it “remarkable” that it’s taken this long for a Native American person to hold a federal court seat in California, which is home to 109 federally recognized tribes.
“The federal courts can have numerous profound effects on myriad Native American individuals and tribes,” Tobias said, listing off reasons why diversity matters on the courts. “Ethnic, gender and experiential diversity improve judicial decision-making, confine biases that can undercut federal court litigation, and increase public confidence in the federal courts when their judges reflect America.”