Judge Derrick Kahala Watson has frozen President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban nationwide just hours before it was to take effect.
This came after Watson heard the state of Hawaii’s case against the ban. Hawaii was the first state to challenge President Trump’s new executive order, which replaced the one that was signed at the end of January but that was halted by a federal judge. The new order was specifically designed to fare better in court, but Hawaii’s lawyers argued that it is still discriminatory and unconstitutional.
Here’s what you need to know about Derrick Watson, the federal judge who froze Trump’s travel ban on Wednesday.
1. He Was Nominated by President Barack Obama in 2012
In November 2012, President Barack Obama nominated Derrick Kahala Watson to serve on the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii. This came after Judge David Alan Ezra assumed senior status in June 2012.
In April 2013, the Senate unanimously confirmed Watson in a 94 to 0 vote after months of delays. This is contrast to the other federal judge who ruled against the travel ban this week, Theodore Chuang, whose nominated was vehemently opposed by Republicans and who received a party-line vote. This was due to Chuang’s involvement in the Benghazi hearings; he provided legal counsel for the State Department when Congress was investigating the 2012 terrorist attack.
Judge Watson is married, and his wife’s name is Gloriann. He also has two sons, Cade and Daly, who are 10 and seven years old respectively. His wife and children attended his Senate confirmation hearing in 2013, according to a transcript from the U.S. Government Printing Office.
The White House announced seven judicial nominees at the same time in November 2012. In addition to Watson, President Obama also nominated Valerie E. Caproni, Kenneth John Gonzales, Raymond P. Moore, Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell, Judge William L. Thomas, and Judge Analisa Torres.
2. He Previously Served as an Assistant Attorney in California & Hawaii
According to the Obama White House, Derrick Kahala Watson earned his J.D. from Harvard Law School, graduating in 1991. Upon graduating, he started work at the San Francisco law firm Landels, Ripley & Diamond. He was an associate at the firm from 1991 to 1995.
From 1995 to 2000, Watson served as an assistant United States attorney in the Northern District of California. And from 1999 to 2000, he was the deputy chief of the Civil Division.
In 2000, Watson joined the San Francisco law firm Farella Braun + Martel LLP, where he focused on product liability, toxic tort, and environmental cost recovery litigation.
“In Mr. Watson’s distinguished career, he has displayed exemplary legal skills, a strong work ethic, and acted with integrity and fairness in his decade as a federal prosecutor and attorney in Northern California and Hawaii,” Senator Brian Schatz said during Watson’s confirmation hearing. “…His work has covered all manner of civil litigation at the trial and appellate court levels, including claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act, employment discrimination and harassment actions, individual capacity claims brought against government employees for alleged constitutional violations, programmatic challenges under the Administrative Procedures Act, and privacy and information claims under the Privacy Act and Freedom of Information Act.”
According to Watson’s Senate confirmation hearing, he has also provided pro bono work in cases concerning human trafficking, common law tort, and wage and hour claims on behalf of Mexican nationals in San Francisco.
After spending 15 years in California, Watson moved back home to Hawaii to serve as assistant United States attorney in the District of Hawaii, and in 2009 he became the chief of the Civil Division. He said in his Senate testimony in 2013 that he moved for family reasons; Watson and his wife had just had their first child, Cade, and they wanted him to get to spend time with his grandparents, who live in Hawaii.
“[His grandparents] have no intention of leaving Hawaii,” Watson said. “And, quite frankly, neither do we. That was the reason for our decision to leave the Bay Area at that time.”
3. He Was the Fourth Article III Judge of Native Hawaiian Descent in U.S. History
When Derrick Kahala Watson was appointed to the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii, he became only the fourth person of Native Hawaiian descent to serve as an Article III judge in American history, according to the Asian Pacific American Caucus. Watson was born in Honolulu, Hawaii.
At the time of Watson’s confirmation, Hawaii Congresswoman and Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Judy Chu released a statement celebrating the selection.
“I am thrilled that the Senate has voted to confirm Derrick Kahala Watson’s nomination to the U.S. District Court,” she said at the time. “This decision continues a significant trend of working to ensure that our federal judiciary reflects the diversity of the American people. Judge Watson is a strong addition to the federal bench, and will surely be a great public servant for the people of Hawaii.”
In addition, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard said that Watson will do Hawaii proud.
“Today, Judge Watson made history,” she said in a statement. “I am confident he will serve Hawaii with distinction and honor. He has dedicated his life to the pursuit of justice and fairness in our legal system. I am proud to welcome this Kamehameha Schools graduate to serve in such a prestigious capacity. We are fortunate to have someone of his stature serving on our District Court.”
Upon announcing Watson’s nomination, President Barack Obama said that the selection represents his “continued commitment to ensure that the judiciary resembles the nation it serves.”
4. He Says That the Executive Order Was Intended to ‘Disfavor a Particular Religion’
In his decision, Watson stated that President Donald Trump’s travel ban was intended to disfavor a particular religion, even if the White House argues otherwise.
He does say that it is “undisputed” that the order does not “facially discriminate for or against any particular religion,” but he goes on to say that “Because a reasonable, objective observer – enlightened by specific historical context, contemporaneous public statements, and specific sequence of events leading to its issuance – would conclude that the Executive Order was issued with a purpose to disfavor a particular religion, in spite of its stated, religiously-neutral purpose, the Court finds that Plaintiffs…are likely to succeed on the merits of their Establishment Clause claim.”
Those who have brought challenges to the travel ban have argued that it discriminates against Muslims and violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The original travel ban called for religious minorities in the Muslim-majority countries to receive special treatment, but this was removed in the second version of the order so that there is no longer any reference to religion.
Overall, Watson says that the new order isn’t any less unconstitutional than the old one, though he specifies that it isn’t as if the administration could never put a similar order in place and have it be found constitutional.
“Here, it is not the case that the Administration’s past conduct must forever taint any effort by it to address the security concerns of the nation,” Watson writes in his decision. “Based upon the current record available, however, the Court cannot find actions taken during the interval between revoked Executive Order No. 13,769 and the new Executive Order to be ‘genuine changes in constitutionality significant conditions.'”
Watson quotes from the 10th Circuit’s decision; they said that any future travel ban should be “purposeful enough for an objective observer to know, unequivocally, that the government does not endorse religion. It should be public enough so that people need not burrow into a difficult-to-access legislative record for evidence to assure themselves that the government is not endorsing a religious view.”
5. He Cited Donald Trump’s Past Comments in His Decision
In his decision on Wednesday, Watson took into account past statements that Donald Trump has made as proof that his executive order is a Muslim ban, with Watson saying that this is vital context and that he need not only rely on the actual text of the order.
“A review of the historical background here makes plan why the Government wishes to focus on the Executive Order’s text, rather than its context,” he writes.
For instance, Watson quotes from a Trump press release from December 2015 which reads, “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States…”
Watson also quotes from some of Donald Trump’s advisors like Rudy Giuliani, who said in a Fox News interview in January 2017 that Trump asked him to come up with a way to legally ban Muslims from the United States.
Giuliani explained, “I’ll tell you the whole history of it: When he first announced it, he said ‘Muslim ban.’ He called me up, he said, ‘Put a commission together, show me the right way to do it legally.'”
Watson also quoted Stephen Miller, a White House senior advisor who said in February that this new travel ban will have “the same basic policy outcome” as the first one, which suggests to Watson that the order has not fundamentally changed.
In addition, Watson quotes from a March 2016 interview in which Donald Trump says, “I think Islam hates us.” Trump went on to say in that interview that “there’s tremendous hatred” and that “we have to be very vigilant. We have to be very careful.”
Watson says in his decision that these “plainly-worded statements, made in the months leading up to and contemporaneous with the signing of the Executive Order, and, in many cases, made by the Executive himself, betray the Executive Order’s stated secular purpose.” Watson also says that any reasonable person would conclude that the order’s stated secular purpose is secondary to its goal of suspending Muslim immigration.
Finally, Judge Watson rejected the White House’s argument that the travel ban is not discriminatory because it only affects six countries.
“The illogic of the Government’s contentions is palpable,” Watson writes. “The notion that one can demonstrate animus toward any group of people only by targeting all of them at once is fundamentally flawed.”