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Senate confirms California’s first Native American district judge

Sunshine Suzanne Sykes was one of three district judges confirmed by the Senate Wednesday.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Senate confirmed three judicial nominees Wednesday, including a Central District of California judge who will be the first Native American to serve as an Article III judge in California.

Sunshine Suzanne Sykes, who was confirmed by the chamber by a vote of 51-45, is also set to become the first member of the Navajo Nation to serve as an Article III judge anywhere in the country.

Article III judges are jurists appointed to lifetime appointments on federal district and circuit courts, as well as the Supreme Court. 

As a judge on the Superior Court of Riverside County in California, Sykes oversaw the court's appellate division and civil litigation department. Previously, she spent eight years as deputy county counsel for Riverside County where she represented government agencies and the California Department of Public Social Services in cases involving abused and neglected children.

She also spent two years on contract with the Southwest Justice Center representing children and families in juvenile court. Sykes earned her undergraduate and law degrees from Stanford University.

The Senate also confirmed two other federal district judges Wednesday night.

Jennifer Rochon was confirmed by a vote of 51-47 to a post as a district judge in the Southern District of New York.

Rochon boasts a unique legal background for a federal judge, having served as the general counsel for the Girl Scouts of America. She also spent time in private practice with Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel.

During her confirmation hearing, Rochon was grilled by Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn over an amicus brief she filed in an immigration case before the Supreme Court.

“You contributed to an amicus brief that supported an argument that mandatory detention of criminal aliens pending deportation proceedings is unconstitutional,” Blackburn said back in February.

Rochon filed the brief as a private attorney in the 2003 Supreme Court case of Demore v. Kim, in which she called it unconstitutional to automatically detain someone in immigration cases without an individualized hearing. The Supreme Court later ruled that such detention is constitutional and Rochon assured Blackburn that as a judge, she would adhere to the Demore ruling.

She earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and her law degree from New York University School of Law.

The Senate also voted to confirm Judge Trina Thompson to a post as a district judge for the Northern District of California. Thompson, who was confirmed by a vote of 51-44, spent two decades as a judge on the Alameda County Superior Court based in Oakland. She spent two years as a juvenile court commissioner and nine years as a criminal defense attorney at a law firm she founded.

At the start of her career, Thompson served as a clerk and assistant public defender in Alameda County, a sign of Biden's continued effort to nominate public defenders and judges with a diversity of legal backgrounds to the federal bench.

Thompson earned her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of California, Berkeley.

“She brings a wealth of experience as a highly regarded trial judge which will be most welcome on our very busy Court,” Chief Judge Richard Seeborg of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California said in a public statement about Thompson’s confirmation.

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