Paul J. Watford

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Paul Watford
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
In office
May 22, 2012 – May 31, 2023
Appointed byBarack Obama
Preceded byPamela Ann Rymer
Succeeded byAna de Alba
Personal details
Paul Jeffrey Watford

(1967-08-25) August 25, 1967 (age 56)
Garden Grove, California, U.S.
EducationUniversity of California, Berkeley (BA)
University of California, Los Angeles (JD)

Paul Jeffrey Watford (born August 25, 1967)[1] is an American lawyer who served as a United States circuit judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit from 2012 to 2023.[2] In 2016, The New York Times identified Watford as a potential Supreme Court nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia.[3][4] Watford resigned his judgeship in 2023 and became a partner at the law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.

Early life and education[edit]

Watford was born in 1967 in Garden Grove, California. He attended the University of California, Berkeley, graduating in 1989 with a Bachelor of Arts. He worked as a legal interviewer for the San Francisco Bar Association's lawyer referral service from 1989 to 1991, then attended the UCLA School of Law, where he was an editor of the UCLA Law Review. He graduated in 1994 with a Juris Doctor and Order of the Coif membership.[5]


After law school, Watford was a law clerk for Judge Alex Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit from 1994 to 1995, and for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1995 to 1996.

In 1996, Watford joined the law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson. From 1997 to 2000, Watford was an Assistant United States Attorney in the Major Frauds Section of the Criminal Division of the Central District of California, where he prosecuted a wide range of federal criminal cases, including white-collar criminal cases. In 2000 he joined the Los Angeles office of the Chicago-based law firm Sidley Austin, but he returned to Munger in 2001, where he became partner in 2003. At Munger, where he worked until his confirmation, he focused on appellate litigation, appearing regularly in state and federal courts to argue his cases. He has authored or edited nearly twenty briefs prepared for the Supreme Court.[5]

Watford is an active member of the American Bar Association, serving as Co-Chair of the ABA Litigation Section's Appellate Practice Committee from 2005 to 2008 and as a member of the ABA's Amicus Curiae Committee from 2007 to 2010. From 2007 to 2009, he taught an upper-level course in judicial opinion writing at the University of Southern California's Gould School of Law.[5][6] Since June 2012, he has served as treasurer and board member of Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, a nonprofit providing pro bono legal services to the poor.[7] He became a trustee of the Norton Simon Museum in 2019.

Federal judicial service[edit]

On October 17, 2011, President Barack Obama nominated Watford to a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.[5] The seat had been vacated by Judge Pamela Ann Rymer, who died from cancer on September 21, 2011.[8] The ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary unanimously rated Watford as a "well-qualified" nominee, the highest possible rating.[9][10] The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Watford's nomination on December 13, 2011.[11] On February 2, 2012, the Judiciary Committee reported Watford's nomination to the floor of the Senate by a 10–6 vote.[12][13] At the hearing, Senator Patrick Leahy noted that Watford had support "from across the political spectrum," including support from a number of prominent conservative legal figures, including Orin Kerr and Eugene Volokh.[10] On May 17, 2012, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid filed a cloture motion on Watford's nomination, seeking to end debate on the nomination. The vote on the cloture motion had been scheduled for May 21, 2012. However, on May 21, Reid asked that the cloture motion be nullified, and that the Senate move to a straight, up-or-down vote on Watford's nomination, which was scheduled for later that day.[14] The Senate confirmed Watford on May 21, 2012, by a 61–34 vote.[15][14] He received his commission on May 22, 2012.[16]

Watford resigned from the Ninth Circuit on May 31, 2023.[16][17] Since his resignation, he went back to private practice by joining Wilson Sonsini as a partner in Los Angeles.[18][19][20]

Notable decisions[edit]

  • Watford authored the decision of the Ninth Circuit's en banc decision in City of Los Angeles v. Patel (2014). In that case, the court struck down, 7–4, a Los Angeles city ordinance authorizing police to conduct surprise inspections of hotel and motel guest registries without obtaining the owners' consent or a search warrant. Watford, writing for the court, held that the ordinance violated the Fourth Amendment.[21][22][23] The following year, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the decision in a 5–4 vote.[24][25]
  • On November 15, 2021, Watford dissented when a 2-1 panel on the Ninth Circuit dismissed a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the son of a woman who died in police custody.[26]

Supreme Court consideration[edit]

In late 2012, multiple national news organizations mentioned Watford as a possible nominee to the Supreme Court of the United States during Barack Obama's second term.[27]

Selected publications[edit]

  • ——— (2014). "Screws v. United States and the Birth of Federal Civil Rights Enforcement". Marquette Law Review. 98 (1): 465–486.
  • ——— (1993). "Contractual Liability in Intellectual Property Disputes—A Case Study: Buchwald v. Paramount Pictures Corp.". Columbia-VLA Journal of Law & the Arts. 18 (3–4): 269–290.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lawyer Central. "Attorney Paul J. Watford". Lawyer Central. Retrieved February 15, 2016.
  2. ^ Carol J. Williams (October 18, 2011). "Obama nominates L.A. lawyer to 9th Circuit". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 7, 2012.
  3. ^ Potential Nominees Obama May Consider to Fill Antonin Scalia’s Seat The New York Times, February 14, 2016
  4. ^ "Here are judges the White House is considering for the Supreme Court". Washington Post. March 7, 2016.
  5. ^ a b c d The White House: Office of the Press Secretary (October 17, 2011). "President Obama Nominates Paul J. Watford to Serve on the United States Court of Appeals". Retrieved October 18, 2011 – via National Archives.
  6. ^ "Paul J. Watford". Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP. Archived from the original on March 27, 2012. Retrieved May 31, 2012.
  7. ^ "NLSLA: About Us – Our Mission". Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County. Retrieved June 1, 2012.
  8. ^ Dennis McLellan (September 24, 2011). "Pamela Ann Rymer dies at 70; judge on U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 7, 2012.
  9. ^ Ratings of Article III Judicial Nominees, 112th Congress, American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary.
  10. ^ a b Statement of The Honorable Patrick Leahy, United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary (February 2, 2012).
  11. ^ United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary (December 13, 2011). "Webcast of December 13, 2011 Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on the Nomination of Paul J. Watford, to be United States Circuit Judge for the Ninth Circuit". United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary. Retrieved February 7, 2012.
  12. ^ "Results of Executive Business Meeting - February 2, 2012" (PDF). United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary. Retrieved November 1, 2022.
  13. ^ Bob Egelko (February 3, 2012). "9th Circuit Court nomination hits GOP snag". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved February 7, 2012.
  14. ^ "On the Nomination (Confirmation Paul J. Watford, of California, to be United States Circuit Judge for the Ninth Circuit)". United States Senate. Retrieved November 1, 2022.
  15. ^ a b Paul J. Watford at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a publication of the Federal Judicial Center.
  16. ^ Raymond, Nate (January 9, 2023). "9th Circuit's Watford, onetime Supreme Court contender, to resign". Reuters. Retrieved January 9, 2023.
  17. ^ "Former Ninth Circuit Judge Paul Watford Joins Wilson Sonsini as a Partner". (Press release). June 6, 2023. Retrieved June 12, 2023.
  18. ^ Osakwe, Chinekwu (June 6, 2023). "US appeals judge, onetime Supreme Court contender joins Wilson Sonsini". Reuters. Retrieved June 12, 2023.
  19. ^ Cohen, Olivia (June 6, 2023). "Ex-Ninth Circuit Judge Watford Joins Wilson Sonsini in L.A." Bloomberg Law. Retrieved June 12, 2023.
  20. ^ Adam Liptak, Supreme Court Will Consider Police Searches of Hotel Registries, New York Times (October 20, 2014).
  21. ^ David G. Savage, L.A. wants court to revive law allowing motel guest registry searches, Los Angeles Times (September 27, 2014).
  22. ^ Patel v. City of Los Angeles, 738 F.3d 1058 (9th Cir. 2014) (en banc), aff'd, 135 S.Ct. 2443 (2015).
  23. ^ Adam Liptak, Justices Rule Police Must Obtain Warrant to Search Hotel or Motel Registries (June 22, 2015).
  24. ^ City of Los Angeles v. Patel, 135 S.Ct. 2443 (2015), aff'g 738 F.3d 1058 (9th Cir. 2014) (en banc).
  25. ^ "9th Circuit Upholds Dismissal of Suit in Aleah Jenkins' In-Custody OD Death". Times of San Diego. November 15, 2021. Retrieved November 28, 2021.
  26. ^ "Supreme Court possibilities if Obama is reelected". October 1, 2012.

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Succeeded by