Judicial Selection Project
The Judicial Selection Project is about research and education: to educate the federal judiciary about federal Indian law and tribal issues; to educate tribal leaders about the federal judiciary and the judicial nominations process; and to reach out to elected officials and the public at large about the need for judges in the federal courts who understand the unique legal status of Indian tribes. The research objective of the Project evaluates the records of judicial nominees on their knowledge of Indian issues. The analyses and conclusions are shared with tribal leaders and federal decision-makers in relation to their decision whether to support or oppose a particular nomination. The Project works with the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to ensure that all nominees are asked about their experience with Indian tribes and their understanding of federal Indian law during confirmation proceedings.
As part of its outreach to Indian country, the Obama Administration is seeking the names of qualified Native American attorneys, tribal court judges and state court judges who are interested in being considered for vacancies on the federal bench. The Project prioritized the development of a process to identify, evaluate and promote qualified Native attorneys, tribal judges and state court judges for nomination to the federal bench. Currently, there are 866 federal judgeships nine on the Supreme Court, 179 on the Courts of Appeals and 678 for the district courts. And there are zero American Indian, Alaska Native or Native Hawaiian federal judges. To date, President Obama has nominated one Native American, Arvo Mikkanen, a federal prosecutor in Oklahoma City, to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma. NARF and NCAI continue to work with the White House General Counsel Office, the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Legal Policy to ensure that qualified Native candidates are considered and nominated to fill other current vacancies on the federal bench.
The education objective of the Project seeks to replicate the success of the historic visit by Supreme Court Justices O'Connor and Breyer to reservation communities during the summer of 2001. Since then, judges from the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Tenth Circuit and Eighth Circuit have been invited and have attended NCAI Conferences held in Sacramento, Denver and Rapid City respectively. In August 2011 during the Eighth Circuit Judicial Conference, Chief Judge Riley was joined by Justice Alito on a tour of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in a visit coordinated by NCAI and the Tribes in South Dakota. In September 2011, Justice Sotomayor visited the Jemez Pueblo, the Santa Domingo Pueblo, the Leadership Institute at the Santa Fe Indian School and the University of New Mexico. During her stay, she expressed her view that a Justice needs to focus on only a few key priorities if they want to make a difference beyond their formal work on the Court. As pet projects, she said that she has prioritized education and American Indian law. The Project, through the National American Indian Court Judges Association, has extended invitations to Justice Kagan and Justice Sotomayor to visit Indian country in 2012 or 2013. The Project remains optimistic that each Justice will take advantage of these and other opportunities to learn more about tribal law, tribal judicial systems and the challenges facing tribal governments.