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After objections from Oklahoma governor, U.S. Senate panel approves Sara Hill for federal judgeship

Sara Hill speaks to lawmakers at a hearing held on Nov. 14, 2023.
Sara Hill speaks to lawmakers at a hearing held on Nov. 14, 2023.

Oklahoma is one step closer to seeing a Native woman hold a federal judgeship.

Sara Hill, former attorney general for the Cherokee Nation, was approved by a U.S. Senate panel on Thursday as a nominee to serve as a federal judge in the Northern District of Oklahoma. Hill was selected by President Joe Biden.

Last month, Hill spoke to lawmakers in Washington about her qualifications. She described being overwhelmed post-McGirt.

“Serving as attorney general for the Cherokee Nation, you know, post-McGirt especially, has been very challenging. There’s been a great increase in the number of criminal cases that are being heard. Indian tribes have jurisdiction over crimes committed by Indians across their Indian countries, so across the Cherokee Nation Reservation,” Hill said.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma upset criminal cases in the state and has shifted the prosecution of some crimes on tribal land from state court to federal or tribal courts.

According to statistics reported by Reuters, criminal cases increased 66% in the Northern District from 2020 to 2021, and jumped another 27.8% from 2021 to 2022, when 511 cases were filed. Yet it currently only has one full-time judge due to vacancies.

Oklahoma’s two Republican Senators, James Lankford and Markwayne Mullin, approve of Hill’s nomination. Gov. Kevin Stitt opposes it. In a statement, Stitt said Hill does not have enough experience at the federal level, and she’s spent too much time suing the state of Oklahoma.

Before joining Public Radio Tulsa, Elizabeth Caldwell was a freelance reporter and a teacher
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