New Judge Lauren King
New Judge Lauren King

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.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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