The One Person Obama Overlooked For The SCOTUS Nomination Would've Been A Perfect SoCal Pick
If confirmed, there's no doubt that Obama's pick for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland, will be a formidable justice. He's been on the United States Court of Appeals in the D.C. Circuit since 1997 and currently serves as its chief justice. He's a hard worker with no serious ideological agenda; center of the road could be good at a time of polarization. But, there's another choice from his short list that could have been awesome too. Judge Paul Watford is one possible nominee Obama overlooked.
According to reports from NPR, Obama interviewed Watford, along with Garland and his other top contender, Judge Sri Srinivasan. I'm sure Obama had his reasons for going with Garland (perhaps his prior experience of confirmation gridlock was among them). But that doesn't mean Watford wouldn't have been a great choice. He currently serves on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California — far from the Beltway — and would let Obama leave an even more diverse Supreme Court as a part of his legacy (he's already nominated two women, including a Latina). Watford would have been just the third African-American to join the Court.
He would also have been the first justice from Southern California, hailing from Garden Grove in Orange County. He got his bachelor's degree at Berkeley and went to UCLA Law School. In perhaps one of the most important tidbits that make you want him to be nominated, he then went to D.C. to be a law clerk for Ruth Bader-Ginsberg. Yes, the notorious RBG. He worked later as an assistant U.S. attorney and then moved on to some private firms until he was nominated by none other than Obama himself to the 9th Circuit.
He had some Republican support in the confirmation process, but not much. Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said Watford was not a “consensus nominee,” particularly due to concerns “regarding Mr. Watford's views on both immigration and the death penalty.” Watford had worked with the ACLU blocking Arizona's immigration law; he also had worked on a brief challenging the lethal injection protocol in many states. In the end nine Republicans voted for his confirmation.
Since then, he has received near universal praise from his peers. A fellow Appeals Court judge from the 9th Circuit, Alex Kozinski, a Reagan appointee said, "The bottom line is he is just really wonderful." Watford was a law clerk for Kozinski back in the day but now they're colleague. "He has been my colleague for three or four years, and I can't pigeonhole him into anything. The guy is really, really smart. He is careful about applying precedent, but based on ideology, you cannot predict the guy."
He has authored two opinions that the Supreme Court has affirmed. In one, a church pastor in Arizona sued because he was not allowed to put large church signs through town directing people to Sunday service — even though political and real estate signs were deemed OK. The 9th Circuit upheld the ordinance that banned the signs. Watford wrote a dissent, and the Supreme Court later agreed in Reed vs. Town of Gilbert.
The other case involved a Los Angeles ordinance that let police inspect the guest register of any hotel or motel without a warrant or the owner's consent. It was passed to help control human trafficking, but in the opinion written by Watford for the 9th Circuit it was found to be unconstitutional. The Supreme Court agreed in Los Angeles vs. Patel.
And if all these reasons weren't enough, Watford played varsity basketball for Laguna Beach High School. Obama has been known to shoot hoops for fun. Imagine a SCOTUS-POTUS game of Knockout. Epic.