The Republican-led U.S. Senate on Thursday confirmed U.S. District Judge Justin Walker to a much more significant and influential position on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The vote was 51 to 42.
Walker will join the ranks of Gregory Katsas and Neomi Rao as the third conservative judge appointed by President Donald Trump to the D.C. Circuit, where Walker used to clerk for then-Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh. To give you a sense of the D.C. Circuit’s importance, the appellate court is currently whether or not to grant Michael Flynn’s emergency petition for a writ of mandamus. During oral arguments last week, Flynn’s lawyers and the Department of Justice asked the D.C. Circuit to force U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan to dismiss the case.
Walker, a longtime Federalist Society member, is 38.
In May, Senate Judiciary Democrats grilled Walker about the Kavanaugh connection.
Walker vigorously defended Kavanaugh throughout the tumultuous Supreme Court confirmation process. Walker reportedly challenged the veracity of Kavanaugh accuser Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual misconduct allegation in more than 70 media interviews. Kavanaugh also made an appearance at Walker’s investiture ceremony after Walker’s confirmation to the U.S. District Court for Western District of Kentucky. In fact, Kavanaugh, spoke briefly and administered Walker’s oath of office.
At the ceremony, Walker thanked Kavanaugh.
“Justice Kavanaugh, what can I say … that I haven’t already said … on Fox News?” Walker asked, referring to his defense of Kavanaugh during the aforementioned Supreme Court confirmation hearings. The audience laughed.
“You were like St. Paul. Hard pressed on every side but not crushed, perplexed but not in despair, persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed because in Brett Kavanaugh’s America we will not surrender while you wage war on our work or our cause or our hope or our dream,” Walker said to applause.
Walker also thanked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who was also in attendance at the ceremony.
“Thank you to Senator Mitch McConnell. One time I asked my mom ‘Why do we have a yard sign for Mitch McConnell?’ I don’t want to make you feel old senator but I was eight,” Walker said. “My mom said ‘We have this yard sign because this election is important.’ I gotta hand it to you mom. It has been extremely important to me that Kentucky’s senior senator is Mitch McConnell.”
McConnell is on record saying that “you cannot credibly argue that Justin Walker is not a judicial all-star.”
Walker’s confirmation to the district court was surrounded by controversy, in no small part, because the American Bar Association said that he was “not qualified” for the job.
“The Standing Committee believes that Mr. Walker does not presently have the requisite trial or litigation experience or its equivalent,” the chair of the ABA’s Standing Committee Paul T. Moxley wrote in July 2019. “Mr. Walker’s experience to date has a very substantial gap, namely the absence of any significant trial experience. Mr. Walker has never tried a case as lead or co-counsel, whether civil or criminal.”
But the ABA reversed course the second time around, however, rating Walker qualified for a D.C. Circuit judgeship.
“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,” Chairman of the ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary William C. Hubbard reasoned, 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 has a bachelor’s degree from Duke University and a law degree from Harvard. He is a former law professor at the University of Louisville and has also practiced appellate law.
Walker is set to replace the retiring George W. Bush-appointed Judge Thomas Griffith.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) voted against Walker’s nomination.
[Image via YouTube screengrab]
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