The United States Senate, on a 55–44 vote Tuesday afternoon, confirmed Lauren King as a new U.S. District Court judge for the Western District of Washington. She will be the first Native American to serve on the federal bench from a state with twenty-nine recognized tribal nations.
Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, D‑Washington, have set out to fill multiple vacancies in the federal judiciary for their home state.
When President Biden took office, the Western District had only two sitting judges plus nine judges on senior status, most still hearing cases.
The gentleladies from Washington have also set out, as has Biden, to make our federal courts more reflective of the population they serve. Grant County Superior Court judge David Estudillo, who was also recently confirmed to the Western District bench, is the first Latino judge to be elected in central and Eastern Washington. (The first Latino judge to be appointed to the federal bench in the Western District was Ricardo S. Martinez, who was confirmed in 2004.)
“Ms. King has extensive litigation experience and is recognized as a leader in Tribal law,” Senator Cantwell said in a statement.
King has served as a pro tem appellate judge in the Northwest Intertribal Court System. A graduate of the University of Virginia Law School, she has taught at the Seattle University Law School. She has also served on the Washington State Gambling Commission.
“Ms. King is a citizen of the Muscogee Nation – and she would be the first ever Native American federal judge in the history of my home state of Washington,” said Murray. “This is a perspective that matters and one that has been missing for far too long.”
Well, not entirely. A Nixon appointee, U.S. District Court Judge George Boldt, made history in 1974 by ruling that treaty Indians were entitled to half the commercial salmon catch in Western Washington rivers.
The Boldt decision held up on appeal. The region’s federal courts have ruled for Native American tribes in cases brought to preserve salmon spawning habitat.
A Trump appointee, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, cast a decisive fifth vote favoring the Yakama Tribe and its right under an 1855 treaty to travel public roads without being taxed on goods brought to the reservation.
The 5–4 decision saw an unusual concurring opinion coauthored by Gorsuch and liberal colleague Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
A total of forty-four Senate Republicans voted against confirming Lauren King, including such lawmakers as Dan Sullivan, R‑Alaska, Steve Daines, R‑Montana, John Barrasso, R‑Wyoming and Jim Inhofe, R‑Oklahoma, with sizeable Native American populations in their states.
Republican votes in favor of confirming King included Senators Lisa Murkowski, R‑Alaska, and Susan Collins, R‑Maine, and – of all people – Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R‑Kentucky.