After five months of being stuck in nomination filibuster limbo, Derrick Kahala Watson is finally going to be a district judge in the District Court for the District of Hawaii. On April 18, the U.S. Senate finally confirmed him, 94 to zero. President Barack Obama first nominated Watson for the seat on Nov. 13, 2012. When nothing happened before the end of the congressional session, Obama renominated him on Jan. 3. Watson fills the seat of now-retired David Ezra and will be the only person of Hawaiian ancestry on the bench.
While a failure to receive confirmation votes would seem to be a poor reflection of Watson, in fact the Harvard graduate’s nomination delay was more symptomatic of an obstructionist right-wing in the U.S. Senate.
“This is a problem that needs to be resolved for the sake of our judicial system, for the sake of the carrying out of justice in our country in a expedited and deliberate manner,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a March 5 Politico story.
That report also highlighted Carney’s figures, in which he claimed “42 percent of Obama’s District Court nominees have waited longer than 100 days for a floor vote, compared to only 8 percent of former President George Bush’s nominees… 78 percent of Obama’s Circuit Court nominees waited longer than 100 days, compared to 15 percent of President Bush’s.”
In any case, Watson received overwhelming bipartisan support. What’s more, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved him for the judgeship two months ago.
“Like almost all of the other nominees pending on the Executive Calendar, these are the kind of mainstream and consensus nominees who should be confirmed quickly,” Vermont Democratic Senator and Senate President Pro Tem Patrick Leahy wrote in an April 18 statement posted on his senate website. “For nearly four years vacancies have been at or above 80, putting an unnecessary strain on our Federal courts. Sequestration cuts have added to the pressure on our justice system.”
Obama, in renewing the nominations, also commented on judicial appointment stalling. “I am re-nominating thirty-three highly qualified candidates for the federal bench, including many who could have and should have been confirmed before the Senate adjourned,” he said. “I urge the Senate to consider and confirm these nominees without delay, so all Americans can have equal and timely access to justice.”
Watson’s confirmation comes after sustained pressure by the Obama Administration and was welcomed by Hawaii’s representatives.
“Derrick Watson’s confirmation today recognizes his eminent qualifications to serve Hawaii and our nation from the federal bench,” US Senator Mazie Hirono, D, Hawaii, said in an April 18 Star-Advertiser story. “Beyond his legal acumen, he brings sorely needed diversity and cultural perspective to the federal bench as the sole Native Hawaiian currently serving.”
Watson is a Hawaii native and graduate of Kamehameha Schools. Since 2007, he had worked as an assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Hawaii. He will fill a vacancy almost a year old. As a Federal district court judge he will serve a lifetime appointment upon good behavior.
Photo of Derrick Kahala Watson: Ninth Circuit Court