Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy On The Nomination Of Paul J. Watford To The Ninth Circuit Court Of Appeals

[WASHINGTON (Monday, May 21, 2012) – The Senate will vote tonight at 5:30 p.m. on confirmation on the nomination of Paul Watford to be a judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  The nomination was reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee in February.  Since then, Senate Republicans have not consented to scheduling a vote on the nomination.  Tonight’s vote comes only after the Senate Majority Leader filed cloture on the nomination last Thursday.


Senator Patrick Leahy chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, and spoke on the Senate floor today about the nomination.  Leahy’s full statement can be read on his website.]


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Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),

Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,

On The Nomination Of Paul J. Watford To The Ninth Circuit Court Of Appeals

May 21, 2012

I am glad we are finally able to debate and vote on the nomination of Paul Watford of California to fill a judicial emergency vacancy on the Ninth Circuit.  Republicans had refused to consent to debate and vote on the nomination since it was approved by the Judiciary Committee more than three and a half months ago.   So, for the 27th time, the Majority Leader was forced to file cloture to get an up-or-down vote on one of President Obama’s judicial nominations.  Thankfully, enough Senate Republicans came forward to indicate that they would not support continuing this filibuster and this afternoon the Majority Leader was able to get consent for this debate and vote on this highly qualified nominee.

Paul Watford is not a nominee who should be filibustered or require cloture in order to be considered by the Senate.  He is a nominee with impeccable legal credentials and qualifications.  He served as a Federal prosecutor and is now a highly-regarded appellate litigator in private practice.  The ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary unanimously gave him their highest rating of well qualified.  He has the strong support of his home state Senators, Senator Feinstein and Senator Boxer.  He also has widespread support from noted conservatives, including two former presidents of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Federalist Society, and Judge Alex Kozinski, the conservative Reagan appointee who is the Chief Judge of the Ninth Circuit.  

By any traditional measure, Paul Watford is the kind of judicial nominee who should be confirmed easily by an overwhelming bipartisan vote.  He is not a nominee against whom a partisan filibuster is in any way justifiable.  He is not a nominee for whom cloture should have had to be filed in order to secure consent to have a vote. 

Paul Watford has a mainstream record demonstrating legal excellence and experience at the top of his profession.  As a Federal prosecutor in the 1990s, Mr. Watford handled prosecutions involving immigration and drug offenses, firearms trafficking, and major frauds.  When confirmed, he will be only the second African-American judge serving on the Ninth Circuit, joining Judge Johnnie Rawlinson of Nevada on the bench.

It comes as no surprise to me that Paul Watford’s nomination has received significant support from conservatives.  The shock is that his nomination is being opposed at all.

I ask unanimous consent that copies of letters of support be included in the Record at the conclusion of my statement.

Paul Watford is far from an ideological or partisan selection.  This nomination should not engender any serious objection.  It is as if he is too good.  He is the kind of nominee who in the past would have received unanimous support.  He has the qualifications, judgment and ability.  Maybe it is that he is so well qualified and relatively young.  It is as if some fear that he might someday be nominated to a still higher court so they want to avoid voting on his nomination, as they did when Elena Kagan was nominated to the D.C. Circuit by President Clinton; delay a vote on it as they did when Judge Sonia Sotomayor was nominated to the Second Circuit by President Clinton; or at least make sure to generate some controversy around and show opposition in the hope that he will not be considered for any future nomination.

I strongly disagree with those who seek to nitpick his legal career.  After his service as a Federal prosecutor, he has worked at a highly respected Los Angeles law firm on a wide variety of matters and has always represented his clients ethically and to the best of his legal ability.  That is what lawyers are supposed to do.  That is what Republicans used to defend when Federalist Society and corporate lawyers were being nominated by a Republican President.  As Chief Justice Roberts noted during his confirmation hearing, lawyers represent clients; they do not stand in their shoes and should not have their client’s legal positions used against them.  So let’s abandon the crude and inaccurate litmus test being applied to President Obama’s nominees.  Let’s stop the caricaturing.  If not, no lawyer will be able to be confirmed to the Federal bench.

Our legal system is an adversary system, predicated upon legal advocacy for both sides.  No nominee should be disqualified for representing clients zealously.  John Adams, one of our most revered Founders, wrote that his representation of the British soldiers in the controversial case regarding the Boston Massacre was “one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country.” 

That has always been our tradition—at least until now.  This litmus test that would disqualify nominees because as a lawyer they represented a side in a case with which we disagree is dangerous and wrong.   Almost every nominee who had been a practicing lawyer would be disqualified by such a test.  

I urge Senators to show that we can work together to reduce the vacancies that are burdening the Federal judiciary and the millions of Americans who rely on our Federal courts to seek justice.  We should start by at long last confirming this good man, Paul Watford, an outstanding nominee to serve on the Ninth Circuit.

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