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Judge from Navajo Nation nominated for U.S. District Court

A Native American was among nine new federal judicial nominees announced by President Joe Biden on Dec. 15.

Judge Sunshine Sykes, a member of the Navajo Nation and descendant of the Coyote Pass-Jemez Clan, was nominated for the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

According to the White House, Sykes would be the first Native American Article III judge in California, the first Article III judge from the Navajo Nation, and the fifth Native American Article III judge actively serving in the United States.

Sunshine Sykes (Courtesy photo)

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez described the nomination as historic. “Judge Sykes’ extensive experience demonstrates her commitment to serving the public and the justice system. We wish her well in this new capacity with the U.S. District Court and we thank her for being an inspiration to our young Navajo people,” Nez said in a statement.

Sykes has served as a California Superior Court judge on the Superior Court of Riverside County since 2013. She currently presides over a civil litigation department and is the presiding judge of the appellate division. From 2005 to 2013, Sykes served as a deputy county counsel in the Office of County Counsel for Riverside, handling litigation on behalf of government entities and serving as a juvenile dependency trial attorney representing the California Department of Public Social Services on matters concerning abused and neglected children. From 2003 to 2005, Sykes worked as a contract attorney for the juvenile defense panel at the Southwest Justice Center. She was also a staff attorney for California Indian Legal Services.

Sykes received her law degree from Stanford Law School in 2001 and her bachelor’s from Stanford University in 1997. Her nomination received praise from Indian Country.

“[The National Congress of the American Indians] strongly supports President Biden’s nomination of Sunshine Suzanne Sykes, a citizen of the Navajo Nation and descendant of the Coyote Pass Jemez Clan, to be the first-ever Native American judge to sit on the federal bench in the state of California,” NCAI President Fawn Sharp said in a statement. “As the third Native woman in history to be nominated as a federal judge, Judge Sykes will bring unparalleled experience in law and policy to our justice system. NCAI urges the swift confirmation of Judge Sykes as the nomination moves before the U.S. Senate.”

“Judge Sykes possesses excellent qualifications to be a federal judge,” Native American Rights Fund executive director John Echohawk said in a statement. “She has extensive judicial experience and a strong record of public service. We applaud her nomination and urge her confirmation. She will be a strong addition to the federal judiciary in California.”

Sykes and the other nominees must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Kevin Johnson
Kevin Johnson is senior editor. He has worked for The Seminole Tribune since 2014. He was previously an editor, photographer and reporter for newspapers in Southwest Florida and Connecticut. Contact Kevin at