Mixed Reactions As Oklahoma Federal Judges Confirmed

Late Tuesday, with bipartisan support, the United States Senate confirmed John Russell, a longtime Tulsa attorney, and Sara Hill, the former Cherokee Nation Attorney General, as federal judges in Oklahoma’s Northern District.

Wednesday, December 20th 2023, 5:41 pm



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The confirmation of the first Native American woman to the federal bench in Oklahoma is producing wildly different reactions from Oklahoma’s top elected Republicans, with Oklahoma Governor Stitt going so far as to say he’s "concerned for what this means for the future of Oklahoma."

Late Tuesday, with bipartisan support, the United States Senate confirmed John Russell, a longtime Tulsa attorney currently at GableGotwals, and Sara Hill, the former Cherokee Nation Attorney General, as federal judges in Oklahoma’s Northern District. As is customary, the two were formally nominated by President Biden, but the nominations came with the wholehearted and explicit consent of Oklahoma's two U.S. Senators, Markwayne Mullin and James Lankford.

"[I'm] very glad that they were able to be moved because they’re desperately needed," Sen. Lankford (R-OK) said in an interview late Tuesday.

Senator Lankford says lingering judicial vacancies in the Northern District have led to a 500-case backlog there and an inability to take on anything other than criminal cases.

"That district, in particular," Lankford said, "has been asking over and over and over again, 'We’ve got to have more judges.'"

The affirmative reply came in the form of a 52-14 vote for Hill and unanimous consent for Russell.

"I think they’re going to be both great judges," Lankford commented. "They’re both very committed to the United States Constitution. They’re very committed to our state and to our nation."

But, with regard to Hill, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt couldn't disagree more. Stitt actively worked to discourage support for Hill, questioning her experience and her loyalty, suggesting the work she did for Cherokee Nation frequently put her at odds with the state.

In a statement Wednesday, Governor Stitt said, "I’m disappointed that some Republicans in the Senate would confirm a Biden nominee that doesn’t hold Oklahoma values. She is an anti-oil and gas, anti-agriculture, pro-abortion activist, and now she can practice that activism from the bench. I’m concerned for what this means for the future of Oklahoma and our mission to be a top 10 state."

Stitt's efforts to defeat what, in practicality, is as much Senator Lankford's nomination as it is President Biden's, have rankled Lankford.

"Governor Stitt and I agree on a lot of things, this is an area that we disagree," said Lankford.

Lankford says he and Senator Mullin thoroughly vetted both nominees and says he asked Stitt to meet in person with Russell and Hill.

"He chose not to be able to meet them face-to-face," Lankford stated. "I wish he would’ve taken that opportunity. He could’ve asked the straight, direct questions that we were able to ask both of them and the background information we were able to do."

In a statement for News 9 and News on 6, Stitt spokeswoman Abegail Cave refuted the notion that the Governor was unwilling to meet with the nominees – in particular, with Hill:

“Governor Stitt would have been happy to meet with Ms. Hill prior to her confirmation. Had that been suggested as a possibility to him, he would have capitalized on it. He certainly did not choose to not meet with the nominees.”

These confirmations bring to 11 the current number of lifetime-appointed federal judges in Oklahoma. All but Hill and Russell were appointed by Republican presidents.

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