Diane Humetewa

In 2007, jurist and attorney Diane Humetewa (born 1964) became the first Native American woman appointed as a U.S. federal judge, as well as the first enrolled tribal member to serve in that capacity. Humetewa, of the Hopi tribe, remains one of just three Native American to have served as a federal judge.

Carried Water in Buckets for Family

Diane Joyce Humetewa (hoo-MEE-tee-wah) was born in Phoenix, Arizona, on December 5, 1964, to Donald A. and Ella Mary Humetewa. Her upbringing was divided between the city and the Hualapai Reservation in the Four Corners area where Arizona meets New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah. Donald Humetewa was an employee of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Diane often traveled with him on business trips, learning about the ways of not only her own tribe, the Hopi, but other tribal groups in the area. When she stayed with grandparents on the reservation, there was no electricity, and the entire village shared a single water tap. Humetewa carried water in buckets to her family's home as a child.

Believing that she would have better opportunities in the future if they did so, Humetewa's family enrolled her in the Phoenix public school system rather than in a reservation school or a boarding school oriented toward Native American students. In 1985, she completed a twoyear Associate of Applied Science degree at Phoenix College and then moved on to Arizona State University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in 1987. After she graduated, Humetewa got a job as an advocate in an Arizona U.S. Attorney's office, appearing in court as a witness supporting crime victims. The office she helped establish was one of the country's first victim services programs.

Seeing how the federal judiciary operated and how it directly impacted the lives of Native Americans inspired Humetewa to attend law school. She enrolled at Arizona State's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law and in her second year received a semester-long staff internship at the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee. There Humetewa met the committee's vice chairman, U.S. senator John McCain, who at the end of the semester told her that she could return to the committee for a staff job after finishing law school if she chose. Humetewa graduated with a juris doctor (J.D.) degree from Arizona State in 1993.

epa european pressphoto agency b.v./Alamy Stock Photo

epa european pressphoto agency b.v./Alamy Stock Photo

Mentored by John McCain

A Republican senator from Arizona, McCain became something of a mentor for Humetewa. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for him,” she told Nick Martin of Phoenix, Arizona's East Valley Tribune. “I think for a lot of us folks who … are McCain alumni, that it becomes a family of sorts.” As deputy counsel to the committee, Humetewa did legal research and aided in investigating the effects of proposed legislation and legislative amendments on Native American communities. In 1996 she moved to the position of counsel to the deputy attorney general at the Office of Tribal Justice, a division of the U.S. Department of Justice, and from 1997 to 1998 she also served as a special assistant to the U.S. attorney for the district of Arizona. In this latter capacity, she often prosecuted homicide cases and other charges for violent crimes.

For most of the late 1990s and early 2000s, Humetewa pursued a dual career track, working for the federal government and for the Hopi tribe. As a volunteer, she served as an appellate court judge in Keams Canyon, Arizona, between 2002 and 2007 and returned there as acting chief prosecutor in 2009. In Phoenix, she was assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona from 1998 to 2007. There, beginning in 2001, she had the special title of Senior Litigation Counsel/Tribal Liaison, indicating her role in serving as mediator between the federal court system and Arizona's tribal entities and their own justice systems. She has been recognized as an expert on tribal legal issues and has often given lectures and and symposium courses on the topic.

A major concern of Humetewa's during this period was advocacy for the rights of crime victims. She supervised the Victim Witness Program at the U.S. Attorney's office, drawing on the knowledge she had gained early in her career about the effects of violent crimes on their victims. Gradually, she gained recognition for her work on behalf of victims’ rights. Arizona's junior U.S. senator, Jon Kyl, on the occasion of Humetewa's confirmation as a U.S. Attorney, wrote (as quoted by R. Kyle Alagood on the Huffington Post website) that she was “the first Native American woman and, as far as I know, the first victim advocate, to serve our nation in this important office.”

Humetewa's nomination for U.S. Attorney came about in 2007, when she received strong recommendations from Republican senators McCain and Kyl. President George W. Bush nominated her on November 15, 2007, and she was confirmed on December 18. She was, as Kyl noted, the first Native American woman to serve in the post, and only one other Native American, a Sioux living in South Dakota, had ever served as a state's attorney of any kind. As U.S. attorney, Humetewa led the prosecution of U.S. Representative Rick Renzi, who under her supervision was charged with 32 counts of embezzlement from his own business to illegally finance his first Congressional campaign. Renzi left Congress and was ultimately found guilty of 17 of the 32 counts and sentenced to three years in federal prison. Humetewa also worked to implement a system by which tribal bodies received adequate notification of the outcomes and effects of federal cases that arose on tribal lands.

Entered Private Practice

In 2009, after the election of President Barack Obama, Humetewa resigned as U.S. Attorney to make way for Obama's nominee, Dennis Burke. She entered private practice with the Phoenix law firm of Squire, Sanders & Dempsey and then, in 2011, began teaching at Arizona State University as a professor of practice—an instructor who also pursues an outside career. She also served the university as special counsel and special advisor to the president between 2011 and 2014.

Humetewa resigned from her positions at Arizona State in 2014 to accept a position as a U.S. federal judge. Once again it was McCain, along with newly elected Arizona senator Jeff Flake, who pushed Humetewa's nomination through the confirmation process. After Humetewa's confirmation, McCain and Flake wrote in the American Bar Assocation's Human Rights Magazine that her “recognition reflects the ideal that can be traced back to the Magna Carta—that we should be judged by a jury of our peers. Furthering this notion, federal law says that a jury must include a ‘fair cross section of the community in the district or division wherein the court convenes.” ’

With the U.S. Congress bitterly divided over Obama's judicial nominees, Humetewa was an attractive choice. She was backed by two longtime Senate Republicans, and her work in the field of victims’ rights gave her a strong law-and-order orientation that appealed to conservative senators. On the other hand, she satisfied the liberal's demand for ethnic and gender diversity. Humetewa was confirmed on May 14, 2014, by a 96–0 vote of the Senate.

After the death of U.S. Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, Humetewa was even touted as a possible replacement. Alagood argued on the Huffington Post site that she had already been vetted extensively in connection with her U.S. Attorney nomination, would draw some Republican support, could not be labeled as soft on crime, would aid Obama's efforts to increase diversity in the federal judicial system, and would bring new perspectives to the nation's highest court. In February of 2016 Obama nominated Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy, but due to the political tensions during the presidential election of 2016, a decision on Scalia's replacement was postponed by Congress until a new president had been elected.

Humetewa is married to Miguel Juarez. She has served as a board member for the Udall Foundation, the ASU Indian Legal Advisory Council, the Hopi Education Foundation, and the Nature Conservancy's Phoenix chapter. She has written and lectured widely on Native American justice and its interaction with the wider justice system of the United States.


Mitchell, Saundra, 50 Unbelievable Women and Their Fascinating (and True!) Stories, Puffin, 2016 (young adult).


Arizona Capitol Times, July 30, 2015.

Indian Life, September–October 2014, p. 9.


Arizona State School of Law website, https://www.law.asu.edu/ (September 2, 2016), “ASU Advisor Diane Humetewa Named 1st American Indian Woman Federal Judge.”

Biographical Dictionary of Federal Judges website (Federal Judicial Center), http://www.fjc.gov/ (September 2, 2016), “Humetewa, Diane Joyce.”

East Valley Tribune online (Tempe, AZ), http://www.eastvalleytribune.com/local/ (July 6, 2008), Nick Martin, interviewwith U.S. Attorney Diane Humetewa.

Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ (February 27, 2016), R. Kyle Alagood, “A Hard-to-Obstruct Supreme Court Nominee: Diane Humetewa FTS.”

Human Rights Magazine (American Bar Association), Volume 40, number 4, http://www.americanbar.org/ (September 2, 2016), Senator John McCain and Senator Jeff Flake, “Federal Judge Diane Humetewa.”❑

(MLA 8th Edition)