The U.S. Senate confirmed Derrick Kahala Watson as a federal judge in Hawaii Thursday, making him the only current native Hawaiian on the federal bench. He is the fourth native Hawaiian to serve on the federal bench, according to Honolulu Civil Beat.
It is the second time this week, the U.S. Senate has confirmed a federal judge nominee. Watson has been serving as a federal prosecutor in Honolulu.
Watson, 46, has been chief of the Civil Division in the U.S. Attorney’s office since 2009. He joined the office in 2007. He also has a connection to the Northern District of California, in the San Francisco Bay Area. He served as assistant U.S. Attorney in San Francisco from 1995 to 2000. After leaving the U.S. Attorney’s office in San Francisco he worked at Farella Braun & Martel, from 2000 to 2003.
He began his law career at Landels, Ripley & Diamond in San Francisco, working there from 1991 to 1995.
He had the support of the Congressional Asian Pacific American caucus, which stated in November, “Pacific Islanders and Native Americans are markedly absent from the federal judiciary,” according to the Honolulu Civil Beat.
Asked during the confirmation process by Sen. Ted Cruz if he believed in “originalism” to interpret the Constitution, he said yes. “Originalism, and, more specifically, original meaning should be considered through historical scholarship and inquiry obtained from the parties, the court and/or amici,” Watson said.
In addition, he talked about the extent of congressional power under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. “The Supreme Court has identified three categories of activity that Congress may regulation under its Commerce Clause authority: 1) the use of the channels of interstate commerce; 2) the instrumentalities of interstate commerce, or persons or things in interstate commerce, even though the threat may only come from intrastate activities and 3) activities having a substantial relation to interstate commerce.”
He said, under this formulation the Commerce Clause, together with its Necessary and Proper Clause power, “extends to non-economic activity,” Watson said.
He declined to respond directly to whether he expects that 25 years from now, use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary in public higher education. Instead, Watson said he would be “bound to apply” all controlling precedent regarding affirmative action.
Watson received his law degree from Harvard University in1991 and graduated from Harvard for his undergraduate degree. He is a native Hawaiian.