April 18, 2013

NAPABA Contact: Emily Chatterjee (202) 775-9555 
AAJC Contact: Kimberly Goulart (202) 499-7027

Watson becomes only person of Native Hawaiian descent to serve on federal bench

WASHINGTON – Today, leaders of the Asian Pacific American community applaud the confirmation of Derrick Kahala Watson to the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii. With a Senate vote of 94-0, he becomes the only person of native Hawaiian descent to currently serve as an Article III judge, and only the fourth in American history.

“Derrick Kahala Watson’s confirmation to the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii is an important step forward for our nation,” said Wendy C. Shiba, president of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA). “With Judge Watson’s well-deserved confirmation, the federal bench will be further diversified. Of note, the District of Hawaii will become the first federal court in U.S. history with a majority of Asian Pacific Americans, as Judge Watson joins Chief Judge Susan Oki Mollway and Judge Leslie Kobayashi on the bench.”

“Judge Watson’s confirmation brings with it much needed diversity to the federal bench,” said Mee Moua, president and executive director of the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), member of the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice. “He brings with him not only a history of government service to the bench, but also a personal story that inspires all members of our community.”

Until his confirmation, Watson served as chief of the Civil Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Hawaii. He has deep roots in Hawaii, growing up in a multi-generational household on Oahu that included his mother, who worked at a local bank until her retirement several years ago, and his father, who retired from the Honolulu Police Department. Judge Watson attended the Kamehameha Schools, Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and is the first person in his family to attend college.

NAPABA and AAJC applaud President Obama for nominating Judge Watson to the bench and thank the late Senator Inouye, former Senator Akaka, and Senators Schatz and Hirono for their recommendation and support of Judge Watson’s nomination.


The National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) is the national association of Asian Pacific American attorneys, judges, law professors, and law students. NAPABA represents the interests of over 40,000 attorneys and 63 local Asian Pacific American bar associations. Its members include solo practitioners, large firm lawyers, corporate counsel, legal service and non-profit attorneys, and lawyers serving at all levels of government. NAPABA continues to be a leader in addressing civil rights issues confronting Asian Pacific American communities. Through its national network of committees and affiliates, NAPABA provides a strong voice for increased diversity of the federal and state judiciaries, advocates for equal opportunity in the workplace, works to eliminate hate crimes and anti-immigrant sentiment, and promotes the professional development of people of color in the legal profession.

The Asian American Center for Advancing Justice ( works to promote a fair and equitable society for all by working for civil and human rights and empowering Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other underserved communities, and is comprised of the Asian American Justice Center (, the Asian American Institute (, the Asian Law Caucus ( and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (