|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|
Derrick Kahala Watson|
September 9, 1966
Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.
Harvard College (A.B.)|
Harvard Law School (J.D.)
Derrick Kahala Watson (born September 9, 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
Derrick Kahala Watson was born in 1966, in Honolulu, Hawaii, to a Honolulu police officer and a worker at a local bank. He graduated from the Kamehameha Schools in 1984 and received his Bachelor of Arts, cum laude from Harvard College in 1988. Watson was the first in his family to graduate college. Watson received his Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School in 1991, and was admitted to practice law in California the same year. Barack Obama and Neil M. Gorsuch were members of his graduating class.
Legal career and service in Army Reserves
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. 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. 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. Watson became a partner at the firm in 2003. 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. 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. 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.
Federal judicial service
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. 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. Watson was rated "well qualified" by a substantial majority of the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary. Watson encountered no opposition in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which reported his nomination to the Senate floor on February 14, 2013, by voice vote. Watson's appointment was confirmed by a vote of 94 ayes to 0 nays on April 18, 2013. 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.
Travel ban case
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." Watson justified his opinion by contending that because the intent of Trump's executive order disfavored foreign Muslims, it by extension disfavored domestic Muslims thus violating their First Amendment rights as well.
On March 29, Watson converted the temporary restraining order into a preliminary injunction. On June 12, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the majority of the injunction, unanimously determining that Trump had "exceeded the scope of authority delegated to the president" under the Immigration and Nationality Act. The U.S. Supreme Court granted Trump's request to hear the case, setting arguments for October 2017; in the meantime, the Court partially reinstated Trump's executive order for a travel ban on June 26, 2017; the Court "prohibited the government from enforcing the ban against any 'foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States,' but they allowed the government to enforce it against travelers who lack such a relationship."
Initially, the Trump administration excluded grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other relations from the exceptions to the travel ban, arguing that they were not "close" relatives. The State of Hawaii filed an emergency motion to clarify the scope of "close familial relationships" under the terms of the injunction and Supreme Court decision narrowing it, asking the district court to rule "that the federal government may not enforce the controversial bans against fiances, grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins of people currently living in the United States." On July 6, Watson denied the motion, writing that "[t]his Court will not upset the Supreme Court's careful balancing and equitable judgment" and that the State should seek guidance from the Supreme Court. State Attorney General Doug Chin described Watson's action as "procedural" rather than a decision on the merits. Subsequently, the Ninth Circuit ruled that Watson "had the authority to interpret the Supreme Court's order and block any violation of it" and the issue returned to him. On July 13 Watson issued a ruling expanding the class of exemptions from the travel ban. He ordered that the definition of "close family members" be expanded to include grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins in the United States. Watson also ruled that refugees who have a formal promise of placement from a U.S. resettlement agency are exempt from the ban. The following day, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sent out a diplomatic cable to all U.S. diplomatic posts reflecting Watson's ruling; the cable "reversed the State Department's previous, narrow definition of close family and stated that 'grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts and uncles, nephews and nieces, and cousins' are eligible for visas."
On October 17, 2017, Watson again issued a temporary restraining order preventing a later revision of Trump's travel ban from going into effect. In his decision, Watson prevented the blocking of citizens of Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and Chad from traveling to the United States, while leaving intact the restrictions for North Korean citizens and some Venezuelan officials. He argued that the revised ban “suffers from precisely the same maladies as its predecessor”.
On June 26, 2018, the United States Supreme Court ruled against Watson and validated President Trumps travel ban.
- MyLife.com profile
- Nomination Questionnaire for Derrick K. Watson, United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary.
- Alexander Burns, From a Placid Judge, a Cutting Rejection of Trump’s Travel Ban, New York Times (March 16, 2017).
- President Obama Nominates Seven to the United States District Courts, White House Office of the Press Secretary (November 14, 2012).
- "Watson, Derrick Kahala - Federal Judicial Center". www.fjc.gov.
- Derrick Kahala Watson picked to be U.S. District Court judge, Pacific Business Journal (November 14, 2012).
- "President Obama Re-nominates Thirty-Three to Federal Judgeships, White House Office of the Press Secretary (January 3, 2013).
- Ratings of Article III Judicial Nominees: 113th Congress: American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary.
- Senate committee approves Watson appointment to U.S. District Court, Honolulu Star-Advertiser (February 14, 2013).
- 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.
- "Travel ban judge is only Native Hawaiian on federal bench". Associated Press. March 15, 2017. Retrieved March 25, 2017.
- Order Granting Motion for Temporary Restraining Order, State of Hawaii v. Trump, CV. No. 17-00050 DKW-KSC (D. Haw. March 15, 2017).
- Dan Levine & Mica Rosenberg, Hawaii judge halts Trump's new travel ban before it can go into effect, Reuters (March 15, 2017).
- Alexander Burns, 2 Federal Judges Rule Against Trump’s Latest Travel Ban, New York Times (March 15, 2017).
- 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)
- Hawaii v. Trump, 859 F.3d 741 (9th Cir. 2017).
- Alan Neuhauser, 9th Circuit Upholds Block to Trump's Travel Ban, Associated Press (June 12, 2017).
- Amy Howe, Dispute over travel ban could return to Supreme Court (UPDATED), SCOTUSBlog (July 7, 2017).
- Richard Gonzales, Hawaii Asks Federal Court For Clarification As Travel Ban Goes Into Effect, NPR (June 29, 2017).
- Federal judge turns back Hawaii's motion on Trump's travel ban, Hawaii News Now/KHNL/KHMN (July 6, 2017).
- Kellelher, Jennifer Sinco (July 14, 2017). "Judge expands list of relatives exempted from travel ban". ABC News. Retrieved 17 July 2017.
- Arshad Mohammed & Yeganeh Torbati, Grandmas, grandpas from travel ban states now welcome -U.S. cable, Reuters (July 17, 2017).
- "Trump's latest travel ban order blocked". BBC News. October 17, 2017. Retrieved 17 October 2017.
- S.M. (18 October 2017). "Donald Trump's latest travel ban is blocked by two federal judges". The Economist.
- Derrick Watson at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.
- Derrick Kahala Watson at Ballotpedia
David Alan Ezra
| Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii