Senators Signal Opposition to Another Ninth Circuit Nominee

February 3, 2012

by Nicole Flatow

The Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday approved the nomination of law firm partner Paul Watford [pictured] to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, a circuit that is now handling double the caseload of other federal circuit courts. But not a single Republican voted to send Watford’s nomination to the Senate floor.

The 10-6 party-line vote (with two Republicans voting “present”) seems to signal an about-face from the broad bipartisan support Watford received when he was nominated in October.

"[E]veryone who knows Paul (whether they are conservative or liberal, or somewhere in between) recognizes that he possesses the qualities that are most needed in an appellate judge,” said Jeremy Rosen, former president of the Los Angeles Lawyers Chapter of the Federalist Society, in a letter to senators calling the nomination of Watford a “home run.”

“Paul is the sort of Democratic nominee that moderates and conservatives, as well as liberals, should solidly support,” said Eugene Volokh, a blogger for the conservative blog, The Volokh Conspiracy.

Others who voiced their support included David Collins, a colleague of Watford’s at Munger, Tolles & Olson who was a lawyer for both Bush administrations and clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and Orin Kerr, a professor at George Washington University and fellow blogger for The Volokh Conspiracy.

Yet, in a statement opposing Watford’s nomination yesterday, ranking Judiciary Committee Republican Charles Grassley urged his fellow senators to vote against Watford because of “substantive concerns” about his work on immigration and death penalty cases.

“Most judicial nominees are sent to the Senate floor with unanimous or near-unanimous approval from the Judiciary Committee,” Carlyn Kolker explains for Thomson Reuters. “… So a party-line vote in committee could be a signal Watford may be headed for a close vote on the Senate floor - if, of course, he ever gets there.”

But, Kolker adds, “Since the Senate came back into session last month, it has voted on just one judicial nominee, and Republicans, angry over Obama's recess appointments, have signaled they may hold up future nominees.”

Watford was nominated following the filibuster of Goodwin Liu. In withdrawing his nomination after more than a year and two hearings, Liu cited the Ninth Circuit’s dire need for judges -- there are now four vacancies considered judicial emergencies on the Ninth Circuit and 86 vacancies overall on the federal courts.

In a letter to senators last year, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski and a number of other Ninth Circuit judges  implored the Senate to "act on judicial nominees without delay," citing a “desperate need for judges.”

“Courts cannot do their work if authorized judicial positions remain vacant,” the letter said.