Public Service

Lauren King confirmed to the U.S. District Court in Seattle: She will be Washington’s first Native American federal judge

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.

Joel Connelly

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