U.S. Senate confirms only 6th Native American ever to federal bench

Lauren King testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 9, 2021. U.S. Senate/Handout via Reuters
  • Lauren King confirmed to be first Native American federal judge in Washington state
  • King is 15th of President Joe Biden's judicial picks to be confirmed

(Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Tuesday voted to confirm Lauren King to serve as a federal judge in Seattle, making her only the sixth Native American to ever sit on the bench in the federal judiciary's 232-year history.

The 55-44 vote cleared the way for King to become only the fourth active Native American federal judge nationally and the first ever in Washington state. She is the 15th of President Joe Biden's 53 judicial nominees to win confirmation.

Biden has sought to elevate more women and minorities to the federal bench. U.S. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in a speech on Monday called King's expected confirmation historic.

"With her confirmation, the members of the Senate can continue the vital work of building a federal judiciary that really reflects the diversity of this nation," Durbin said.

Six Republicans joined with Democrats to vote to confirm King to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking GOP member on the Senate Judiciary committee.

The others were Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mike Rounds of South Dakota.

King had been a principal at Foster Garvey, the Seattle law firm where she chaired the firm's Native American law practice group. She has also served as a pro tem appellate judge for the Northwest Intertribal Court System since 2013.

Before joining Foster Garvey, King was an associate at Byrnes Keller Cromwell from 2010 to 2012 and at K&L Gates from 2008 to 2009.

She has also served as a commissioner on the Washington State Gambling Commission.

King, a citizen of the Oklahoma-based Muscogee Nation, is the second Native American to be confirmed to the bench under Biden, after the Senate in June confirmed Lydia Griggsby, who is also Black, to serve as a federal district judge in Maryland.

That's the most Native American nominees to ever win confirmation under a single president.

Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Donald Trump had one Native American nominee each who won confirmation, according to the Federal Judicial Center.

The only other active Native American judges are U.S. District Judge Diane Humetewa in Arizona, an Obama appointee, and U.S. District Judge Ada Elene Brown in Dallas, a Trump nominee.

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Nate Raymond reports on the federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at nate.raymond@thomsonreuters.com.