Skip to main content

Derrick Kahala Watson Confirmed to Hawaii District Court

Derrick Kahala Watson became the only native Hawaiian person to currently serve on the district court as the Senate voted unanimously April 18.
  • Author:
  • Updated:

Derrick Kahala Watson on April 18, further helped diversify the federal court system when the United States Senate voted unanimously, 94-0, in confirming Watson to the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii.

The confirmation made Watson the only person of native Hawaiian descent to currently serve as an Article III judge, and only the fourth in American history according to an Asian American Justice Center (AAJC) release.

Upon the announcement the National Native American Bar Association (NNABA) and leaders from the Asian Pacific American community applauded the decision.

“NNABA is thrilled by the historic confirmation of Derrick Kahala Watson to the federal judiciary,” said Mary L. Smith, president of NNABA in a NNABA release. “We are heartened that in addition to Mr. Watson’s eminent qualifications, the federal bench will be furthered diversified as the result of Mr. Watson’s ascension to the court. We applaud President Obama for nominating Mr. Watson and the U.S. Senate for its 94-0 vote to confirm him.”

"Derrick Kahala Watson's confirmation to the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii is an important step forward for our nation," said Wendy C. Shiba, president of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA). "… Of note, the District of Hawaii will become the first federal court in U.S. history with a majority of Asian Pacific Americans, as Judge Watson joins Chief Judge Susan Oki Mollway and Judge Leslie Kobayashi on the bench."

According to a White House press release in November, Watson has been an Assistant United States Attorney in the District of Hawaii since 2007, and has served as Chief of the Civil Division since 2009. Prior to this position he worked for Farella Braun + Martell LLP, a San Francisco law firm, where he practiced with a focus on product liability, toxic tort, and environmental cost recovery litigation. He joined the firm in 2000 and became a partner in 2003. From 1995 to 2000 he was an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of California. Watson received his law degree in 1991 from Harvard Law School, his A.B. in 1988 from Harvard College, and began his law career in 1991 with the law firm Landels, Ripley & Diamond in San Francisco.

"He brings with him not only a history of government service to the bench, but also a personal story that inspires all members of our community," said Mee Moua, president and executive director of the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), member of the AAJC.

Watson has deep roots in Hawaii, growing up in a multi-generational household on Oahu with his mother, a retired banker, and father, retired Honolulu police officer. He was the first in his family to attend college, the AAJC release stated.

NAPABA and AAJC applaud President Obama for nominating Judge Watson to the bench and thank the late Senator Inouye, former Senator Akaka, and Senators Schatz and Hirono for their recommendation and support of Judge Watson's nomination.

NNABA hopes that this nomination signals that a Native American will soon be appointed to the federal bench.