Derrick Watson

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Derrick Watson
Derrick Kahala Watson.JPG
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii
Assumed office
April 23, 2013
Appointed by Barack Obama
Preceded by David Alan Ezra
Personal details
Born Derrick Kahala Watson
1966 (age 50–51)
Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.
Education Harvard College A.B.
Harvard Law School J.D.

Derrick Kahala Watson (born 1966) is a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii.

A native of Hawaii, he graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School before entering private practice in San Francisco. He served as a federal prosecutor for some years in California and then Hawaii, rising to become chief of the Civil Division of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Hawaii. Appointed to the federal bench in 2012 and 2013 by President Barack Obama, he was unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate in 2013. Watson is the fourth Native Hawaiian federal judge in U.S. history, and the only one currently serving.

Early life and education[edit]

Derrick Kahala Watson was born in 1966, in Honolulu, Hawaii,[1] to a Honolulu police officer and a worker at a local bank.[2] He graduated from the Kamehameha Schools in 1984 and received his Artium Baccalaureus cum laude from Harvard College in 1988.[3][1] Watson was the first in his family to graduate college.[2] Watson received his Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School in 1991, and was admitted to practice law in California the same year.[1] Barack Obama and Neil M. Gorsuch were members of his graduating class.[2][4]

Legal career and service in Army Reserves[edit]

He began his career as an associate at the law firm of Landels, Ripley & Diamond in San Francisco, California, where he worked from 1991 to 1995.[3] He served as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Northern District of California from 1995 to 2000, serving as Deputy Chief of the Civil Division from 1999 to 2000.[3] In 2000, Watson returned to private practice, joining the law firm of Farella Braun + Martel LLP, where he worked on product liability, toxic tort, and environmental cost recovery litigation.[3] Watson became a partner at the firm in 2003.[3] While in private practice, Watson conducted substantial pro bono work on behalf of the San Francisco Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, he also did pro bono work involving human trafficking and wage and hour claims.[2] Watson served as an Assistant United States Attorney in the District of Hawaii from 2007 to 2013 and served as Chief of the Civil Division from 2009 to 2013.[3] From 1998 to 2006, Watson served in the United States Army Reserve in the Judge Advocate General's Corps, with the rank of captain. He was honorably discharged.[1][4]

Federal judicial service[edit]

On November 14, 2012, President Obama nominated Watson to serve as a United States District Judge for the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii, to the seat vacated by Judge David Alan Ezra, who took senior status on June 27, 2012.[3][5] On January 2, 2013, his nomination was returned to the President, due to the sine die adjournment of the Senate. He was renominated to the same office the next day.[6] Watson was rated "well qualified" by a substantial majority of the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary.[7] Watson encountered no opposition in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which reported his nomination to the Senate floor on February 14, 2013, by voice vote.[6][8] Watson's appointment was confirmed by a vote of 94 ayes to 0 nays on April 18, 2013.[9] He received his commission on April 23, 2013. Watson is the fourth Native Hawaiian to serve on the federal bench, and the only currently serving Native Hawaiian judge.[10][4]

Notable case[edit]

On March 15, 2017, Watson granted a temporary restraining order blocking President Trump's revised executive order banning entry of nationals of six majority-Muslim countries into the United States from going into effect. Watson held that the order would violate the First Amendment's Establishment Clause in that "a reasonable, objective observer ... would conclude that the Executive Order was issued with a purpose to disfavor a particular religion."[11][12][13] On March 29, 2017, Watson converted the temporary restraining order into a preliminary injunction.[14]

Personal life[edit]

Watson described himself to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser as a political independent.[2]


  1. ^ a b c d Nomination Questionnaire for Derrick K. Watson, United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary.
  2. ^ a b c d e Alexander Burns, From a Placid Judge, a Cutting Rejection of Trump’s Travel Ban, New York Times (March 16, 2017).
  3. ^ a b c d e f g President Obama Nominates Seven to the United States District Courts, White House Office of the Press Secretary (November 14, 2012).
  4. ^ a b c "Watson, Derrick Kahala - Federal Judicial Center". 
  5. ^ Derrick Kahala Watson picked to be U.S. District Court judge, Pacific Business Journal (November 14, 2012).
  6. ^ a b "President Obama Re-nominates Thirty-Three to Federal Judgeships, White House Office of the Press Secretary (January 3, 2013).
  7. ^ Ratings of Article III Judicial Nominees: 113th Congress: American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary.
  8. ^ Senate committee approves Watson appointment to U.S. District Court, Honolulu Star-Advertiser (February 14, 2013).
  9. ^ Senate Roll Call: Question: On the Nomination (Confirmation Derrick Kahala Watson, of Hawaii, to be U.S. District Judge, Secretary of the United States Senate.
  10. ^ "Travel ban judge is only Native Hawaiian on federal bench". Associated Press. March 15, 2017. Retrieved March 25, 2017. 
  11. ^ Order Granting Motion for Temporary Restraining Order, State of Hawaii v. Trump, CV. No. 17-00050 DKW-KSC (D. Haw. March 15, 2017).
  12. ^ Dan Levine & Mica Rosenberg, Hawaii judge halts Trump's new travel ban before it can go into effect, Reuters (March 15, 2017).
  13. ^ Alexander Burns, 2 Federal Judges Rule Against Trump’s Latest Travel Ban, New York Times (March 15, 2017).
  14. ^ Michelle Broder Van Dyke, Chris Geidner & Zoe Tillman, A Federal Judge Keeps Trump's Travel And Refugee Ban On Hold Indefinitely, "Buzzfeed News" (March 29, 2017)

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
David Alan Ezra
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii