In a high-profile reversal of course, the American Bar Association (ABA) on Tuesday furnished federal circuit court nominee Justin Walker, 38, with a “Well Qualified” rating, less than a year after the organization said he was “Not Qualified” to serve on the district court where he currently presides.
In a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Chairman of the ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary William C. Hubbard said that a majority of the Standing Committee was of the opinion that Judge Walker was “Well Qualified” to serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, though smaller factions of the committee also found him “Qualified” and “Not Qualified.”
The D.C. Circuit Court is widely considered the second most powerful court in the nation, behind the U.S. Supreme Court due to its jurisdiction in the nation’s capital, which means it overhears issues pertaining to Congress and federal administrative agencies. Just a few hours ago, the Philadelphia Bar Association said Walker was not qualified for the “lofty” role and cited the ABA’s prior opinion of Walker.
Less than one year ago, a majority of the ABA rated Walker as “Not Qualified,” claiming he did not “have the requisite trial or litigation experience or its equivalent” to serve as a district court judge.
Hubbard explained that because circuit courts are tasked with reviewing the decisions made in district courts, and do not oversee actual trials, the skill-set for presiding over the courts are different.
“Because an appellate judge deals primarily with the review of briefs and the records of lower courts, the Committee places somewhat less emphasis on the importance of trial experience as a qualification for the appellate courts,” he wrote, quoting the Standing Committee’s Backgrounder. “The Standing Committee’s inquiry of the relevant legal community, therefore, is focused with that different lens. Based on interviews and a review of his scholarship and other writings, the Standing Committee believes that Judge Walker possesses a keen intellect, and his writing ability is exemplary.”
Walker was a law professor at the University of Louisville and is a long-time Federalist Society member. He has a bachelor’s degree from Duke University and a law degree from Harvard. He has also practiced appellate law, and clerked for Brett Kavanaugh when Kavanaugh was a circuit judge on the D.C. Circuit.
Hubbard also noted that the Backgrounder also indicates that a nominee for the federal bench should have “at least 12 years’ experience in the practice of law” but said the Committee concluded that Walker’s “varied accomplishments as a law clerk, law professor, and now as a district judge offset concerns about his years of practicing law.”
Walker, who has served in the Western District of Kentucky for less than a year, issued a scathing opinion last month blocking an emergency social distancing directive that “strongly suggested” churches should not hold drive-in services on Easter Sunday.
Democrats have tried and thus far failed to convince Senate Republicans to delay Walker’s May 6 hearing.
See the full ABA evaluation letter below:
[image via YouTube screengrab]
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