The first native american judge on the California state bench, Judge Sunshine Sykes looks likely to break barriers on the federal bench as well.
Born on the Navajo Nation Reservation in Arizona in 1974, Sykes attended Stanford University, getting a B.A. in 1997. She then received a J.D. from Stanford Law School in 2001.
After law school, Sykes joined California Indian Legal Services and then spent two years at the Southwest Justice Center and the California Department of Social Services. In 2005, Sykes joined the County Counsel’s Office in Riverside County.
In 2013, Governor Jerry Brown of California appointed Sykes to the Riverside County Superior Court. She currently serves on the Court.
History of the Seat
Sykes has been nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, to a seat vacated on March 3, 2020 by Judge James Selna. The Trump Administration did not nominate a candidate for this vacancy before the end of the Presidency.
Sykes started her career working for California Indian Legal Services. She then spent two years with the Southwest Justice Center and the California Department of Social Services, where she served as an attorney for juvenile offenders. See County Attorney Appointed to Judicial Seat, City News Service, Dec. 5, 2013. See, e.g., Leland L. v. Superior Ct. of Riverside, 2004 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 2871 (Mar. 30, 2004).
From 2005 to 2013, Sykes worked as Deputy County Counsel in Riverside County, working on writing ordinances, vetting documents, and representing the county in judicial proceedings.
During her time as County Counsel, Sykes saw her name in a discrimination suit, where the plaintiff alleged that his colleague responsible for the discrimination developed a dislike for him because he protested against an adulterous relationship she was engaged in with Sykes’ then-boyfriend. See Rodriguez v. Cal. Rural Legal Assistance, Inc., Case No. ED CV 13-958-JFW, 2014 WL 3900234 (C.D. Cal. June 30, 2014). The suit was ultimately dismissed by U.S. District Judge John Walter, after U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym found the affidavits involving the extra-marital relationship to be irrelevant. See id.
Since 2013, Sykes has served as a judge on the Riverside County Superior Court. In this role, Sykes presides over trial court matters in criminal, civil, family, and other state law matters. At the time of her appointment, Sykes was the first native american state court judge in California. See County Attorney Appointed to Judicial Seat, City News Service, Dec. 5, 2013.
Among her notable cases from the bench, Sykes presided over a suit against Monster Beverage Corp. by a man who accused the beverage of causing his heart attack. See Mike Curley, Appeals Court Upholds Verdict in Monster Heart Attack Case, Law 360, Mar. 26, 2021. Sykes bifurcated the trial between causation and damages, and the jury unanimously found for Monster, a verdict upheld on appeal. See id. Sykes also presided over a lawsuit brought by the families of three girls allegedly molested at Liberty Elementary School. See School District Settles Suit Arising From Alleged Sexual Abuse of Students, City News Service, Dec. 3, 2018. The suit ended in a $6.2 million settlement.
Sykes has spoken out on the need for greater diversity in the legal profession and, in particular, the prejudice she has faced for being Native American. See, e.g., Diverse Judges Share Paths to Bench, Advise Young Lawyers, U.S. Official News, Feb. 9, 2016. In a 2016 panel with the American Bar Association (moderated by U.S. District Judge J. Michelle Childs), Sykes noted that her re-election appointment had indicated that she was not qualified to be a judge because she was Native American. See id.
As a state judge with nearly a decade of experience and little controversy during her tenure, Sykes should have little trouble retaining the Democratic support she would need for confirmation.
The country needs more Native Americans in the federal bench. Hopefully at least one of the circuit court vacancies will be filled by one as well.
Yeah this is a pretty darn good nominee.
My Email to Demand Justice re: Judge Childs:
Subject: Against Judge J. Michelle Childs
Dear Demand Justice,
I have followed with enthusiasm your work and advocacy, and the esteem your organization now commands in the judicial nomination space. I am a voter whose single-issue is the Federal Judiciary in general and the nomination and confirmation process specifically.
I now write to you to express my concerns about the possible nomination of Judge Childs to Justice Breyer’s seat on the SCOTUS. Further, I write to implore you to reject her candidacy. Please read this correspondence as a rejection in the strongest possible term of Judge Childs’ elevation to the high court.
My rejection of Judge Childs as a possible nominee is based on her substantial background as a white-collar attorney, unredeemed by her stint at the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission. Her legal career before her tenure as a U.S. district court judge is coming more and more into focus and there is plenty to dislike about what we are seeing. As the public vetting continues, her record on criminal justice is not exactly prepossessing.
If Judge Childs does not have the qualifying professional background that a Democratic President can be proud to highlight, then what does she have? A powerful political patron. What a catastrophe it would be if the president appoints someone to the Supreme Court, whose record is less than stellar, as pay back for a political favor. The Supreme Court is no longer the place for patronage appointments.
This former management-side, anti-labor lawyer cannot meet the moment and President Joe “from Scranton” Biden should not be seriously considering her for the vacancy. Her nomination and appointment to the Supreme Court would be akin to putting Senator Kyrsten Sinema on the court where she would join the other corporatist justices.
As a black man myself, I was very pleased when President Biden reaffirmed his intention to honor his pledge to nominate and appoint the first black female justice to the high court. As the search continues and as the President asks for the most qualified candidate, the question should answer itself: not Judge J. Michelle Childs.
We have a deep bench of potential candidates who are young and vibrant with qualifying experience and ready to take on this important role.
As we wait for President Biden to name his choice, let us not waste our energies trying to defend the troubling record of Judge Childs. Demand Justice must not pre-endorse her nomination and must even come out against it, for good measure. When a qualified woman is named later this month, let us fight for her swift confirmation with singular vigor.
Yes I agree – great nominee given her public interest background, and I could see her getting Murkowski’s vote for confirmation (at least) as one of the few Native American nominees. She’s leagues better than the other Judge Sykes (a partisan hack on the 7th Circuit and one of the worst W Bush appointees) – I wish Biden would’ve nominated her to one of California’s 9th Circuit seats.
I’m honestly a little disappointed at the relative lack of Native American nominees (and I’m not even Native American) – has it just been her and Lauren King in the Western District of Washington? I am thrilled that half of Biden’s COA nominees have been Black and 9 out of 20 are Black women, but hopefully he also nominates a Native appellate judge soon because he’s running out of time.
The best seat I can think of is Hurwitz’s (and maybe McKeown’s if they figure out which state the seat “belongs” to). Are there any Native American candidates on anyone’s radar in Arizona? I know Judge Rosemary Marquez on D. Ariz. is probably the front runner given her diverse personal and professional background, but interested in what people think.
There are Native candidate in Arizona…. One is Ethel Branch, a former Navajo Nation attorney general. Another could be Stacy Leeds, a former Cherokee Nation Supreme Court justice who is also a professor at U Arizona.
I too think there needs to be at least one native American appeals court nominee. Arizona is probably the best chance with Kansas as another strong possibility too.
If we get another one or two California vacancies this year it is possible one could be Native American albeit I think with the pressure for Biden to name more Latin American judges, it’s more likely Biden will go that route for The Golden State.
Whom do you have in mind for Kansas as a Native American nominee? The only one I can think of is Washburn Law Dean Carla Pratt and she is 54.
The only Native American possibilities I know from Kansas would be Chris Howell who works in the governors office (Democrat) but I can’t find his age or graduation dates. Then as you mentioned Dean Carla Pratt who is in her mid 50’s so I wouldn’t even bring her up. But I’m sure there are a handful or so younger & progressive that I just don’t know.
A nominee with an interesting professional and personal background and as others have noted, another important advance for Native American representation in the judiciary.
Interesting that J. Michelle Childs, much discussed in these parts recently, pops up at the end.
I hate to complain but if Schumer can file the discharge motion on this nominee, couldn’t he have done it for the 3 judicial ones needing the discharge motion…..Or just file cloture on the 10 judicial nominees already waiting.
Maybe Dequan, Shawn & myself should take over in the senate, then we WILL confirm all judicial nominees – yesterday!
If we were in charge they all would be confirmed by Valentines Day… Lol
As has been posted earlier, it is not difficult for most of the non-discharge nominees to be confirmed as part of a large batch on any one day. That being said, nominees from courts which are currently lacking several judges such as on the various California district courts should be prioritized by the majority leader for a vote to help ease the pressure on those courts.
I agree, but it’s too bad that Bagenstos’ bid to the MI Supreme Court flamed out. He would have made a fantastic judge whether state or federal.
If I was in charge I would keep the Senate in session until al the judges, US Attys, and other nominees get votes. And nominees like Childs and Rearden would never get a hearing and I would tell Biden to withdraw the nominee or the seat wouldn’t be filled.
Some news on a couple of district courts;
Nebraska will have a vacancy next year.
Also we have a red state recommendation for the Iowa district court.
Two updates regarding red state district court seats;
Nebraska will have a vacancy open up next year.
We now have an official recommendation from the Iowa senators for their district court vacancy.
Here’s some more info on Leondra Kruger turning down Biden’s offer for solicitor general last year…
I understand Kruger’s logic to not put herself in the crosshairs by having to take controversial positions, but that kind of thinking can backfire too. By declining Biden’s invitation, Biden’s team could see her in a bad light as well, and that could make it less likely that she should be picked for SCOTUS.
Hopefully Biden will turn down Kruger’s hope to be appointed to the Supreme Court. She’s far far better than Childs, but considerably worse than KBJ.
I completely agree with all of that Shawn. In my opinion, KBJ should be the nominee but if the nominee comes from California, it should be Holly Thomas, not Kruger.
News on a couple district court retirements in red states.
In Iowa, Grassley and Ernst’s commission sent a single name to Biden. Biden should absolutely refuse to nominate their right-wing lackey and leave the seat open until 2023. If the Dems hold the Senate, you get rid of the blue slips. If not, then you can cut a similar deal with Grassley that Obama did in 2015, confirm nominees in blue states in exchange for Grassley’s nominees.
As an Iowan, this is a good example of the risks of outsiders misjudging nominees based on faulty political signals.
Locher is a good Democrat, married to liberal state court judge Sarah Crane (who would almost certainly be appointed to the Iowa Supreme Court if a Democrat won the governorship), only 43 years old, and on credentials/experience the best-qualified liberal lawyer in the state for this position. While he was an AUSA, he was the office’s white collar specialist rather than a street crime guy, and he’s also practiced criminal defense. He’ll definitely be a criminal defendant-friendly judge. Grassley’s committee is nonpartisan and also chose extremely well-qualified candidates under Obama (it’s the same committee).
In an unrelated matter, Andre Mathis had his confirmation hearing back on January 12 and it was contentious. Tennessee’s Senators complained that the White House blindsided them with his nomination. They claimed that the White House didn’t even send them the blue slips for them to respond to. Chairman Durbin was not happy about that either, but claims it doesn’t disqualify Mathis.
They also made much of the fact that Mathis’s drivers license was suspended three times over failure to appear in court for multiple speeding tickets. Marsha Blackburn called it a “rap sheet’ (over the top, IMO).
A tweet by Harsh Voruganti was correct, state judge Camille McMullen was a candidate who was discussed and whom the Senators said they would be willing to accept.
Look for Republicans to unite against Mathis. With Ben Lujan sidelined in the hospital, his nomination may take a while.
Sherrod Brown ok with Childs……I admire Sen Brown, but don’r agree w/him on this one – at all…
The article included like warm responses from Bernie & Elizabeth Warren. I really wish senator Brown would have at least given a similar remark. Those three refusing to endorse Childs would have probably clinched Biden not choosing her.
I doubt that, since they will vote for whomever Biden nominates, even if they wanted a more progressive nominee.
I posted my letter to Demand Justice re: Childs here in these comments yesterday but Harsh Voruganti and the other admins haven’t/won’t sign off on it, so it’s stuck in moderation. But my bottom line: If the Supreme Court is like a ship, the best way to counter it being so far to the right is not by going to the middle. That won’t stop the rightward capsizing. You must send people to stand firmly on the left. Thus, Judge Childs does not meet the moment.
Everyday I wake up with a sense of dread that Childs will be the nominee and Sen. Brown’s comments today only aggravate that feeling. There’s no doubt in my mind that Biden is definitely more partial to “bipartisanship” (to a flaw) than being conscious to progressive concerns.
Woe is me…
I’ve made it clear here and I’ve made it clear with office holders, I won’t support or vote for anyone who votes for Judge Childs. I already intend to blank for the House this November and in the future as long as Jim Clyburn remains in the House leadership, and I won’t support any senator who votes for Childs. At this point I would prefer than Justice Breyer just die on the bench rather than being replaced with Childs.
If Biden appoints Childs, I would support his impeachment for any reason and would refuse to vote for him in 2024 even against Trump.
I completely agree with you @Gavi
Thank God. I was about to call for Durbin to be removed as chairman if I didn’t see this today. Now can we please have at least five nominees even if all district court while president Biden reviews all of his pending circuit court nominees.
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Why are they doing this piecemeal in the first place? What could be said against hearing from 15-20 nominees on a long Committee day? Being used the European parliamentarism, it’s astonishing for me to see how inefficiently the US Senate works
The issue isn’t so much why they don’t just pack more than a dozen nominees into one hearing (Although I like how you think), the real issue is Durbin isn’t even following the precedent from the most recent Republican majority.
The Republicans would hold hearings with three different sessions in one day while Durbin has never had more than two. The Republicans would hold hearings during recess weeks while Durbin hasn’t done that even once. The Republicans would have a hearing & put the nominees from that hearing on the executive calendar the very next week so they can be held over & ready to be voted out in week two, while Durbin has repeatedly not done this. The Republicans would routinely have 5 & 6 nominees per hearing. Durbin has had too many hearings with less than a handful of nominees including two weeks ago with just three nominees.
Chairman Durbin done a good job but not as good as he could be doing. Democrats have a 50/50 senate so they need to act as if the majority can be lost at a moment’s notice because it can be.
Two good articles regarding judge Costa’s retirement;
The SJC just voted on Andre Mathis. I will admit I went to sleep last night worried Durbin or even Leahy or Feinstein would waiver. They did not. Chairman Durbin, senators Whitehouse, Padilla, Booker & others defended Mr. Mathis vigorously.
The most shocking moment was the vote. After a hour of debate back & fourth & senator Graham voted by proxy NO, I figured a tie vote was about to occur. I almost fell out of my chair when senator Kennedy voted YES so no discharge vote will be needed. Only Jessica Clarke received a tie vote.
Today was a very good day in the SJC. It is now clear there will be no blue slips to block circuit court nominees while the Democrats are in the majority.
I think Senator Kennedy is using the Graham strategy, in that, dealing with (some of) Biden’s nominee in good faith in hopes to have more influence when it comes to nominees (DC & CA) from his home state.
It’s a far more effective strategy for Republicans than Blackburn’s, as the positive report of Mathis’s nomination shows.
That may be, but he hasn’t done this at all so far. Personally, I think Kennedy was just pissed about the way that he was not consulted by Trump regarding 5th Circ nominees in his state and in a weird way is justifying Biden doing the same thing.
While I am surprised at Kennedy’s vote today, I think a few things have happened since Mathis hearing that might have led to his yes vote today;
1. Kennedy got a harsh rebuke for his J. Crew from a law book comment about the first Black women nominee to SCOTUS.
2. There is a current vacant circuit court seat in Louisiana so perhaps Kennedy is trying to show his independence so he can get the senator Graham treatment when it comes to consultation for the seat instead of getting the Marsha Blackburn treatment.
3. A hard left Louisiana Democrat challenger Gary Chambers has released two campaign videos that are provocative & getting a lot of news coverage. It is bringing attention to senator Kennedy’s re-election that otherwise would go under the radar.
Except Senator Kennedy was surprisingly reasonable with Andre Mathis during the hearing. When I watched the exchange at the time, I was a bit surprised… and I thought at the time that Kennedy was a dark horse to vote for him.
And on top of it, Kennedy made it clear that he fought with Trump regarding being consulted on nominees to the 5th Circuit and acknowledged that it may not be fair to hold Biden to a different standard. Altogether I think something else is going on here.
I’m not that surprised that Senator Kennedy voted yes. I watched the back and forth questioning from Kennedy to Mathis. He seemed pretty impressed with Mathis as a whole and defended him from accusations that Mathis was unqualified. Kennedy even suggested that he could understand the Democrats ignoring blue slips when Trump did the same.
GW Bush Eastern District of NY appointee Kiyo A. Matsumoto announced she will take senior status next year. Hopefully we get a nominee closer to Nina Morrison, Nusrat Jahan Choudhury or Natasha C. Merle instead of Jennifer H. Rearden for that seat.
It was shocking that Kennedy voted for Mathis…..I don’t think anyone saw that coming……
Now Schumer needs to start clearing these nominees on the floor…..And 4 need discharge votes so that will take more time…
OT – Millhiser on Childs..
It will be tough for Schumer to file for discharge votes on any of the 4 nominees before senator Lujan returns next month from his heart attack unless he gets an agreement from one of the Republican senators they will vote yes or unless one of them are out due to Covid or some other reason.
I don’t think Childs is a secret Republican by any means, she’s just a horrible nominee for this seat. She would be only second worst behind Harriet Myers as a nominee in my lifetime in my judgement.
I’m not for smearing a possible candidate but these issues needs to be hashed out & The White House must know she will not be an acceptable nominee for progressives BEFORE Biden makes his decision. I wish her no harm by if this made judge Childs decide against the DC circuit nomination because the only reason to leave South Carolina for the seat would be to fast track her for the SCOTUS, then that would be the best case scenario. But at this point I’ll settle for her just not being the nominee for Breyer’s seat.
Read the NYT piece earlier this morning. That’s quite an assessment…
I don’t read the statement, however, to imply she’s a DINO. She’s just very, very centrist.
She is likely a DINO. That there’s no question about IMO. And she is unqualified. My suspicion is that she would be about where Justices O’Connor or Kennedy were ideologically, but at best she would be ideologically where Merrick Garland is. Really a reverse Souter or Blackmun. That’s totally unacceptable for a President with a Democratic Senate.
She’s not Gorsuch or Alito, but I strongly fear that she could be a reverse Blackmun or Souter. Childs could well be a moderately conservative justice on par with say Justice O’Connor or Kennedy on ideology, along with just basically being unqualified.
This is totally unacceptable that Biden is even considering her seriously. Childs would certainly be to Breyer’s right.
BTW, I don’t think it was that shocking that Kennedy voted for Mathis. When I saw his questions during the hearing, my feeling was this was quite reasonable coming from Senator Kennedy. Please read my comments above.
Schumer did a discharge vote yesterday on an executive nominee,,
He should at very least get a few of the District court nominees thru, most, if not all, will get a few GOP votes..
Yea I saw that. I think there were 4 Republican senators missing from the vote. If Schumer has advance heads up 2 or more Republicans will not be in attendance to vote then I would agree he should discharge the 4. He may be able to get at least one Republican for Sweeney & Vera but no Republican is going to vote for Dale Ho (Which was one of the reasons I wished he would have been nominated for a circuit court).
Senate is done til Mon with no nominees scheduled…..Perhaps they need another vacation…Why bother confirming anyone, just let the nominees collect dust…
It utterly blows my mind why Schumer doesn’t at least set up a circuit court nominee with a cloture vote every Thursday to vote on Monday of the following week. I mean if they are going to be off Thursday 3pm to Sunday 3pm every week, at least tee up the next week for the nominees that take up the most floor time…smh
Because he is down a Democratic Senator right now and doesn’t want to roll the dice on judicial nominees until he’s sure they can get confirmed?
Last week was the first time since Christmas that I was impressed in what Schumer did by putting forward 20 nominations and making the senate work through them over the next two weeks.He should be doing that every week including on Judicial nominations especially on a Thursday afternoon a few GOP senators always seem to have left as votes progress on a Thursday.
I know they have to pass a funding bill next week and they want to do the post office reform bill but they should still announce another 20 nominations and don’t leave until they are complete.
On Senator Luján I feel very sad for him but I do feel if he isn’t back in a bout a month maybe he should resign and recover and run again when he is better in the special elections for his seat. When it’s a 50-50 senate every vote matters sadly.
I had a similar thought. It doesn’t even have to be that drastic. He can resign with the promise from whoever the governor (A Democrat) appoints, will resign in 3 or so months & the governor will appoint Lujan back to his seat. He will lose a few months of seniority but it would be for the greater good of the party.
The problem with that scheme is that Lujan would have to run for the seat again in November. The appointment would only be valid until the election. That probably should not be a problem, but Lujan only won by 6 last November.
Aaahhh ok gotcha. I know states differ so if that is New Mexico law then yea, I wouldn’t risk another election this November, especially in this political environment.
Personally if Lujan can’t return by April 15, it’s worth considering resignation and a later reappointment. But if the timetable is accurate he should be back by mid March at the latest.
In the meantime, the Senate should clear the table on all nominees that Lindsay Graham voted for in committee. And get a whole bunch of non-judicial nominees confirmed as well. And get other judicial nominees hearings done as well.
Really only the nominees that are at risk of being rejected should be held over until Lujan returns.
Yea I completely agree. The only nominees left to be confirmed by the time Lujan comes back is the SCOTUS nominee, Dale Ho, Jessica Clarke (I feel both Sweeney & Vera could probably get at least one Republican vote) & whoever Biden announces in the February batch (I’m not counting Stephanie Davis as a batch).
All local DC nominees should be confirmed by then… And speaking of by the end of March, I’m hoping for the following circuit court nominees to be announced by the end of next month;
I wouldn’t expect any of the other circut court vacancies to have a nominee by the end of next month but on the district courts we should have at least one nominee in each of the following states as well;
President Biden & Vice President Harris had a meeting today with the Democrats on the SJC. Only senator Feinstein missed the meeting.