First Native Hawaiian woman appointed as US federal judge
- Shanlyn A.S. Park has been confirmed as District Judge for Hawaii
- Park is the first Native Hawaiian woman to serve as a federal judge in US history
The US has appointed Judge Shanlyn A.S. Park, a Native Hawaiian woman, as a District Judge for Hawaii. It is the first time in US history a Native Hawaiian woman is appointed as a federal judge.
The appointment is particularly significant in terms of representation as Native Hawaiians comprise 21.8% of the population in the district where she will preside.
Park has secured the lifetime appointment after the US Senate voted 53-45 in her favour.
Born and raised in Hawaii, Park has been a state circuit court judge since 2021. She previously worked in private practice and at the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the District of Hawaii. While a practising attorney, she has also represented individuals on a pro bono basis, including cases of employee discrimination.
Diversifying the US judiciary
Since Joe Biden was elected president in 2020, his government has made efforts to diversify the federal judiciary as well as congress.
During Donald Trump’s four-year presidency he appointed more than 200 judges, almost as many as former president Barack Obama appointed in eight years.
Trump, along with Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, worked closely on filling positions in the federal judiciary with conservative-leaning judges, notably on the Supreme Court. The appointment of Amy Coney Barrett as successor to Ruth Bader Ginsberg created a 6-3 split along party lines, an ideological division that majorly impacted the Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade in 2022, criminalising abortion in a number of states.
A milestone in US legal history
Makalika Naholowaʻa, President of the National Native American Bar Association, emphasised the critical role of including Native Hawaiians in the judicial system: “Inclusion of Native Hawaiians in the courts that preside over matters in Hawaii is critically important to advancing trust in the judicial system and the rule of law.”
Despite the celebratory nature of this achievement, it highlights the ongoing underrepresentation of Native people in the federal judiciary. Of the more than 870 authorised federal judgeships, there are only seven judges from American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian communities.