Richard Clifton: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

Richard Clifton serves on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. (Ninth Circuit Blog)

Richard Clifton serves on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. (Ninth Circuit Blog)

Richard Clifton is one of three federal judges who will hear arguments on Tuesday regarding the legality of President Donald Trump’s recent travel ban.

Clifton is a judge on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and he’ll be hearing the case along with Michelle Friedland and William Canby.

Here’s what you need to know about Richard Clifton.

1. He Was Appointed by President George W. Bush

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President George W. Bush speaks during a press conference in April 2007. (Getty)

Michelle Friedland and William Canby were both appointed by Democratic presidents: Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter respectively. But Richard Clifton was appointed by a Republican president: George W. Bush.

Clifton was nominated by President Bush on September 4th, 2001; he filled a seat that was vacated by Cynthia Holcomb Hall, who had obtained senior status.

On July 18th, 2002, Clifton was unanimously confirmed by the Senate.

2. He Earned His J.D. from Yale Law School

Clifton was born in Framingham, Massachusetts, although he grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana and then in Chicago, Illinois.

He graduated in 1972 from Princeton University, and then in 1975 he graduated from Yale Law School.

After graduation, Clifton moved to Honolulu, Hawaii in order to clerk for Judge Herbert Choy, who he later said was one of the kindest people he’s known.

“What I have really come to appreciate is the personal openness and willingness to help,” Clifton said of Choy, according to The Recorder.

3. He Previously Worked at a Law Firm in Hawaii

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Richard Clifton previously worked for the law firm Cades Schutte Fleming & Wright. (

Not long after graduation, Clifton joined the law firm of Cades Schutte Fleming & Wright, one of the biggest firms in the state of Hawaii, and he became a partner there in 1982. He worked here until his appointment in 2001.

According to the Public Information Office of the United States Courts for the Ninth Circuit, he focused on business and commercial litigation at this law firm, frequently delivering oral arguments before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where he would later be appointed as a judge.

During this time, Clifton was active on the Hawaii State Bar Association.

4. He Says He Has ‘No Strongly Pronounced Political Philosophy’

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Richard Clifton was appointed by a Republican president but says he has no strong political philosophy. (CSPAN)

According to The Recorder, Clifton says that he is close to “what there is of an organized Republican Party in Hawaii,” but he says that he has “no strongly pronounced political philosophy.”

This is probably part of the reason why his confirmation process was so smooth, and why he was confirmed in a unanimous vote.

He’s even well-liked in the mostly Democratic state of Hawaii, where he actually was endorsed by two Democratic senators.

“The longtime business litigator and Republican Party leader from Hawaii was approved 98-0 in July,” The Recorder observed in 2002. “The approval was due, in part, to the fact that there was nothing for potential opponents to grab on to — he never helped organize farm worker unions, never wrote briefs arguing against Roe v. Wade, never did anything but be a lawyer’s lawyer while managing to pull off the not-easy feat of becoming a well-liked Republican in Democrat-dominated Hawaii.”

5. He Assumed Senior Status in December 2016

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit building is seen February 6, 2017 in San Francisco, California. (Getty)

After 15 years on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Richard Clifton assumed senior status on December 31st, 2016.

This is a state of semi-retirement in which judges can continue to serve on the court but see a more limited number of cases. Clifton was one of three judges on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to assume senior status in the last months of 2016, and there are currently four vacancies on the court.

In a letter announcing his intention to step down as an active judge, Clifton said that he would continue serving on the court in a major way.

“I look forward to continuing to serve while providing my court another judge and opening the door for another resident of Hawaii to have that opportunity,” Clifton wrote.