Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Watford for 9th Circuit

February 2, 2012. The Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC) approved the nomination of Paul Watford to be a Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals (9thCir) by a vote of 10-6-2, in a party line vote.

Watford has represented clients in appellate proceedings in many significant technology related cases. For example, he represented Rambus in patent and antitrust litigation, defended Verizon in phone bill cramming litigation, and represented Jeppesen DataPlan in a landmark state secrets privilege case.

However, opposition to his nomination is based primarily upon his court briefs, responses to the SJC, and speeches regarding state immigration statutes, the death penalty, and judicial consideration of foreign or international law.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) stated at the SJC executive business meeting on February 2 that Watford is a "consensus" nomination, and that the "9th circuit is in serious need of new judges".

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), the ranking Republican on the SJC, was not present for the debate or vote on Watford. He voted no by proxy, and submitted a statement for the record.

Sen. Grassley reviewed Watford's record related to immigration and the death penalty. He also noted that Watford conceded that "he would give consideration to foreign or international law in interpreting the meaning of the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause".

Sen. Grassley, referring to his own statement last month regarding President Obama's "unconstitutional" recess appointments, added that "we're not operating under normal circumstances. The atmosphere the President has created with his disregard for Constitutional principles has made it difficult to give his nominees any benefit of the doubt. So I will oppose this nomination and ask my colleagues to do the same."

All Democratic members voted yes. The no votes were cast by Sen. Grassley, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK). The other two Republican members of the SJC voted present -- Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

Watford is an appellate litigator in the Los Angeles office of the law firm of Munger Tolles & Olson. He has also clerked for 9th Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Ginsburg, and worked for the law firm of Sidley Austin. See, Watford's SJC questionnaire with responses [34 pages in PDF].

He has represented clients in many technology related cases. For example, he represented Rambus in patent infringement actions, including Samsung Electronics v. Rambus, in the Federal Circuit. See, 2008 opinion.

He also represented Rambus in Rambus v. Infineon Technologies. Perhaps it is noteworthy that Judge Sharon Prost dissented from the Federal Circuit's 2003 opinion in that case. Before her appointment to the Court, she was a long time member of the SJC Republican staff.

Watford also represented Verizon in class action litigation regarding phone bill cramming, or unauthorized charges on consumers' phone bills. The case was Lewis v. Verizon Communications, Inc., in the 9th Circuit. For more on the topic of cramming, see story titled "Senate Commerce Committee Holds Hearing on Phone Bill Cramming" in TLJ Daily E-Mail Alert No. 2,258, July 14, 2011.

Watford also represented Jeppesen Dataplan in Mohammed v. Jeppesen DataPlan. This case pertained to rendition of persons to other countries, and foreign interrogation tactics. Watford's client, a subsidiary of Boeing, transported people to other countries.

The facts that gave rise to this case are not technology related. However, the key issue in the case, the reach of the state secrets privilege, does affect technology. The federal government, during both the Bush and Obama administrations, has aggressively asserted the privilege in litigation involving warrantless wiretaps.

For an analysis of the significance of assertion of the state secrets privilege for the protection of privacy and liberty interests in the context of information and communications technologies, see subsection titled "TLJ Analysis" in story titled "9th Circuit Rules in State Secrets Case" in TLJ Daily E-Mail Alert No. 1,933, April 29, 2009.

Watford also worked in an oil industry antitrust case of significance to technology -- Texaco Inc. v. Dagher. The Supreme Court's February 26, 2006, opinion [9 pages in PDF] is reported at 547 U.S. 1.