Indianz.Com > News > Indian Country cheers nomination of Muscogee Nation citizen to federal bench
Lauren J. King. Photo courtesy Foster Garvey
Indian Country cheers nomination of Muscogee Nation citizen to federal bench
Thursday, May 13, 2021

A citizen of the Muscogee Nation is set to make history as the first Native person to serve as a federal judge in Washington state.

Lauren J. King, an attorney, will be nominated to serve on the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, the White House announced on Wednesday. Should she be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, she will only be the third active Native judge in the nation.

In seeking to join the ranks of the federal judiciary, King brings a broad range of Indian law and policy experience to the bench. She has served as a judge for the Northwest Intertribal Court System , which serves more than 20 tribes in the Pacific Northwest, and as a member of the Washington State Gambling Commission, which oversees government-to-government gaming compact negotiations with tribal nations.

King also has significant experience in protecting tribal sovereignty in the federal court system. She was part of the legal team that secured victories for tribal treaty rights in Washington in a case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“NCAI strongly supports the nomination of Lauren J. King, a citizen of the Muscogee Nation, as the first ever Native American judge to serve on a federal bench in Washington state,” President Fawn Sharp of the National Congress of American Indians said in a statement on Wednesday.

“Washington state is home to 29 federally recognized Indian tribes, making it critical that its federal judges better reflect the communities they serve and understand the unique histories of Native peoples and the legal principles that protect and preserve our standing under federal law,” said Sharp.

King’s sovereignty work extends to her people as well. She served on the Mvskoke Reservation Protection Commission, which the Muscogee Nation established last year after the landmark Supreme Court decision that confirmed the continued existence of the tribe’s reservation.

“The Muscogee Nation applauds President Biden’s judicial nomination of Lauren King for the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington,” the tribe said in a statement. “As a Muscogee citizen and a woman, this nomination continues a welcome trend of Native women at the forefront of consideration for positions of leadership and influence in our country. Ms. King has a wealth of knowledge and experience in the legal field that includes positions as a Judge, practitioner and instructor.”

King’s experience also includes the greater Indian legal community. She serves on the National Native American Bar Association, the Northwest Tribal Court Judges Association, the Northwest Indian Bar Association and is the Indian Law Section Conference Chair for the Federal Bar Association.

“Ms. King is a highly respected Native American attorney whose background and experience has prepared her well for the federal bench,” said John Echohawk, the executive director of the Native American Rights Fund. “We congratulate Ms. King and encourage the United States Senate to act swiftly on her confirmation.”   

Out of 890 active federal judicial positions, only two are held by Native people. Both happen to be Native women.

Diane Humetewa, a citizen of the Hopi Tribe who was nominated to the bench by Barack Obama, serves on the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. She was the first Native woman to join the federal judiciary, having been confirmed back in May 2014.

Ada Brown, a citizen of the Choctaw Nation, serves as judge for the Northern District of Texas. She was nominated by Donald Trump and was confirmed in September 2019, making her the first African-American woman judge for that court.

Beyond Humetewa and Brown, two other Native people have served on the federal bench, according to the Federal Judicial Center. Michael Burrage, a citizen of the Choctaw Nation, previously served as a judge in Oklahoma while Frank Howell Seay, who discovered his heritage later in life, is an inactive senior judge in Oklahoma.

The lack of representation has been a major issue for tribes, since the federal courts are often the only venue where treaty, sovereignty and other disputes can be heard. According to NCAI and NARF, at least 14 American Indians and Alaska Natives should be serving in the judiciary, based on current demographics.

Enduring adequate representation also has been a priority for President Joe Biden, who has nominated 20 federal judges since taking office in January. In announcing his first 11 picks on March 30, he said his nominees “represent the broad diversity of background, experience, and perspective that makes our nation strong.”

King is a principal at the Foster Garvey law firm, where she chairs the Native American Law Practice Group. Her firm declined to comment about her historic nomination on Wednesday.

“Her example of hard work, pursuing education and dedication to her craft, is a valuable teaching tool and motivation for our young Muscogee women to reach their greatest potential,” the Muscogee Nation said in its statement. “Her experience, leadership and integrity leaves us confident that she will be fair and impartial, and we eagerly anticipate her confirmation to the federal bench.”

King’s confirmation would be handled by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. Though a hearing has not yet been scheduled, her nomination is likely to move forward under Democratic control in the Senate.

“Ms. King is a highly qualified candidate who will be well prepared to serve as an exceptional federal judge on day one,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington) said in a news release. “Her impressive legal experience, significant work in tribal courts, and her service to the community will all be important assets to our court system. I look forward to a swift confirmation of Ms. King so she can get to work for the people of Washington state as soon as possible.”