The only black clerk Ruth Bader Ginsburg ever deigned to hire during her 40 years on the federal bench was Paul Watford, the guy in the middle who looks like he might be J.K. Simmons’ secret son with Rashida Jones.
From the Orange County Register in 2016:
Laguna Beach is nice.
This photo of Paul Watford playing on Laguna Beach High School’s varsity basketball team is from the school’s 1984-1985 Nautilus yearbook. Watford was on a short list to be nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court, although Merrick Garland got the nod from President Barack Obama on Wednesday.
By MARTIN WISCKOL | [email protected] | Orange County Register
March 21, 2016 at 8:32 a.m.
Paul Watford, one of the few African Americans in his Laguna Beach High graduating class, came as about as close as possible to being nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court.
While President Barack Obama’s final choice to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia announced Wednesday was Merrick Garland, Watford’s stature as a jurist has been elevated by being widely discussed as a top-three finalist.
So, how good did a black law student have to be to get hired as a clerk by Ruth Bader Ginsburg? He had to be good enough to be one of the three finalists for Barack Obama’s 2016 nomination to the Supreme Court that instead went to Merrick Garland. In other words, Paul Watford may be the finest black legal mind of his generation. And that made him good enough for RBG.
It’s not clear if any other blacks of the last 40 years were good enough for Ginsburg. When asked by the Senate in 1993 why she hadn’t ever hired a single black during her 13 years on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the second most prestigious court, she implied that she wouldn’t miss out on the really good blacks once she was on the Supreme Court.
And indeed she did find one black good enough to work for her, Watford, during her 27 years on the Supreme Court.
… “Paul was, undoubtedly, the most brilliant student in my grade,” said Joshua Zimmerman, a high school classmate who teaches history at Yeshiva University in New York. “In history and literature classes we took together, I remember Paul as the student who had a measured, nuanced analysis of issues. … Paul had a sophisticated and elegant writing style that made me envious.”
OK, so Judge Watford’s best friend in high school now holds the Eli and Diana Zborowski Professorial Chair in Holocaust Studies and East European Jewish History at Yeshiva U. I suspect that was reassuring to Justice Ginsburg.
Senate Republicans have vowed not to consider any nomination by Obama. But Watford, a former point guard for his high school’s varsity team, is a moderate whose supporters include notable Republicans.
“He’s a rare combination of somebody who is really smart, has accomplished a lot and is really humble,” said U.S. appellate court Judge Alex Kozinski, a Ronald Reagan appointee.
And Watford came strongly recommended by Judge Kozinski:
He added that Watford had the kind of credentials that would have impressed GOP senators who took time to consider him.
“I’ve never detected any ideology,” Kozinski said. “He was always down the middle. He’s exactly the kind of person they would want.”
After receiving his law degree from UCLA, Watford was a clerk for Kozinski and then for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. He went on to be a partner in the Los Angeles office of the prominent law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson and in 2012 assumed his current post as a judge on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. …
“I told him he was a likely candidate for the Supreme Court and he acted like he didn’t believe me,” Kozinski said. “There’s very little with which he could be attacked. He’s led an unimpeachable life. He’s the kind of guy who wouldn’t step off the curb if there’s a ‘no-walk’ sign.” …
Watford was born in Garden Grove and grew up in Laguna Beach, where he attended Top of the World Elementary School and Thurston Junior High School before entering Laguna Beach High. He was one of the few blacks at the school – and in the city.
… In high school, the two [Watford and Zimmerman] shared a love of jazz, with Watford being particularly enamored with John Coltrane.
Zimmerman’s father was a white Jew who taught black and civil rights history, and had a living room “filled from floor to ceiling with bookshelves full of literature” on the subjects, Zimmerman said.
“Often when Paul was visiting, he noticed those books and my father gladly loaned him several,” he said. “Afterward, they discussed issues raised in those volumes and I felt so privileged to be a fly on the wall at those discussions.”
Watford also worked at the Fahrenheit 451 bookstore his friend Zimmerman’s mother ran in Laguna Beach.
Fahrenheit 451 was the most famous liberal bookstore in conservative Orange County. The L.A. Times reported in 1994: “It’s probably the only place on the (Orange County) coast that a person can go and actually get a taste of the ‘60s and the Haight-Ashbury days and the coffeehouse and the metaphysics and the artists and the whole bit,” said Ron Watson, a syndicated radio talk show host who lives in Dana Point and has been a Fahrenheit fan for 10 years.”
… “There could not have been a more intellectually stimulating environment in which to work, especially for an impressionable teenager whose mind was just being opened to the world of ideas,” he wrote.
I presume all this made Justice Ginsburg feel more culturally comfortable with young Watford.
From the standpoint of the theory of disparate impact discrimination and systemic racism, this is all pretty funny, but I suspect Justice Ginsburg never got the joke.