federal courts

As Trump Fumes, GOP Advances Real Party Goal of Making the Federal Judiciary Great Again

Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Imag

Justin Walker, a 37-year-old associate professor of law at the University of Louisville, has an impressive career for a candidate vying for a tenure-track grad-school position, having graduated from Harvard Law, clerked for Justices Kennedy and Kavanaugh, and served as a speechwriter for Donald Rumsfeld. But, having never tried a case in court as a lead or co-counsel, it’s hard to argue that Walker is prepared for a lifetime appointment to be a U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Kentucky.

And yet, the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee made just that argument on Thursday when it voted along party lines to advance Walker to a full vote on the Senate floor. “This is unquestionably the most outstanding nomination that I’ve ever recommended to Presidents to serve on the bench in Kentucky,” Mitch McConnell tweeted in July, when Walker’s name first came up. However, the Senate Majority Leader made his endorsement to the detriment of the nonpartisan American Bar Association, which gave Walker a rare “not qualified rating.” The ABA suggests that “a nominee to the federal bench ordinarily should have at least 12 years’ experience in the practice of law” — not zero cases in court under their belt. In addition, Paul T. Moxley, chair of the ABA committee on the federal judiciary, issued the closest thing to an I Don’t Know Her that a lawyer can physically emit: “Based on review of his biographical information and conversations with Mr. Walker, it was challenging to determine how much of his ten years since graduation from law school has been spent in the practice of law.”

Democrats agreed with the ABA’s concerns over Walker, whose course load includes seminars like Lawyering Skills I and II. “There have got to be more qualified Republican attorneys in America than the ones we’re seeing before this committee,” said Senate Judiciary member Dick Durbin. Ranking member Dianne Feinstein added a qualitative critique: “He has opposed the ability of federal agencies to adopt critical health and safety protections for workers and the environment, and he has argued that the FBI should not be independent of the president.” Walker has also been criticized for his defense of Brett Kavanaugh, conducting over 70 interviews in which he challenged the account of Christine Blasey Ford. Civil rights attorney and Obama administration alum Leslie Proll said that Walker got the nomination because “he went to bat for Kavanaugh.”

Walker isn’t the first unqualified candidate put forward by the Trump administration. As HuffPost notes, Senate Republicans have confirmed four lifetime federal judges who were deemed unqualified by the ABA, including one guy who just couldn’t write well:

They include U.S. Circuit Judge Leonard Steven Grasz, who the ABA concluded was “unable to separate his role as an advocate from that of a judge” given his strong anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion views; U.S. District Judge Charles Goodwin, who the ABA said lacked the ability to fulfill the demands of a federal judge given his frequent absence from the courthouse in his former role as a magistrate judge; and U.S. Circuit Court Judge Jonathan Kobes, who the ABA found “was unable to provide sufficient writing samples of the caliber required” of a circuit judge.

Walker’s passage through the Senate Judiciary on Thursday is a reminder of why Establishment Republicans are willing to sit through dueling scandals in Turkey and Ukraine: to remake the federal judiciary in their own likeness for decades to come. As of publication, Trump has appointed two judges to the Supreme Court, 43 to the U.S. Court of Appeals, and 109 to U.S. District Courts.

As Trump Fumes, GOP Advances Goal of Lifetime Federal Judges