BY A.J. BELL
The Obama Administration needs a nominee for Supreme Court who is so moderate that the Republican controlled Senate has no choice but to confirm the nominee, and whose centrist views would keep the Nation’s highest Court in some semblance of balance.
Diane Humetewa is a federal district court judge in Arizona who was appointed to the bench by President Barack Obama and overwhelmingly confirmed by the United States Senate in a 96-0 vote. She was first recommended for appointment by Senator John McCain.
Before serving as a federal judge, Humetewa was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve as US Attorney for Arizona. As a federal prosecutor, she is known for a 2007-08 corruption case against former Congressman Rick Renzi, a fellow Republican.
Humetewa is a Professor of Practice at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. She has served as counsel to the US Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and to the Deputy Attorney General at the Department of Justice. She is a former Appellate Court Judge for the Hopi Nation, of which she is an enrolled member.
She is the only Native American sitting on the federal bench.
Given the constructs of American property law, Indian law is distinctly federal. Tribes are disproportionately affected by Supreme Court decisions that have, at times, haphazardly reshaped jurisdictional relationships with overt racial bias. Hundreds of years of case law has evolved around the objective of subjugating the property rights of indigenous people.
Following the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia, Republican candidates for President have called on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to filibuster any nominee.
Political operatives speculate that such overt Republican obstructionism against the first African American to hold the office of President will create intense political backlash that might allow the Democrats to retake the Senate.
If President Obama’s nominee is a moderate Republican woman whose centrist views are likely to keep the Court in relative balance, the Republican majority will have no choice but to confirm the nominee or risk sweeping electoral losses.
Conversely, operatives postulate, if President Obama nominates an unabashed liberal he will do more to mobilize conservative voters across the country than any of the GOP’s presidential candidates could. To make social issues a central discourse in a presidential election year would risk control of the White House.
A Humetewa nomination would likely focus the Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearings on her views of federal Indian law, and with it hundreds of years of case law. Humetewa is considered one of the Nation’s leading experts.
That dynamic may play well for the Democrats’ political interests.
The Obama Administration would rather have the discourse consumed with issues of tribal sovereignty, which motivates few voters, than a slew of social issues that mobilize voters viscerally. Observers say that such a convenient distraction could blunt the GOP’s ability to fundraise and mobilize around the appointment process.