WASHINGTON ― The Senate voted Thursday to confirm Justin Walker, the 38-year-old protege of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to a lifetime seat on the nation’s second-most-powerful court.
Every Republican present but one, Maine Sen. Susan Collins, voted to put Walker onto the District of Columbia U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Every Democrat present voted no. The final tally was 51 to 42.
There was nothing particularly urgent about filling the court seat; it’s not even vacant until September. But Walker’s nomination sailed through the Senate at “warp speed,” as one expert put it, because McConnell personally wanted him confirmed.
McConnell has known Walker since he was in high school. He knows Walker’s grandfather, and he recommended him to the White House last year for a seat on a U.S. District Court in Kentucky, at the time calling him “unquestionably the most outstanding nomination that I’ve ever recommended to presidents to serve on the bench in Kentucky.”
That was a day after the American Bar Association rated Walker “not qualified” for the job, citing his lack of experience. His resume at the time listed positions as an associate law professor and former law clerk to then-U.S. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh in the District of Columbia Circuit.
More than 200 national civil rights groups strongly opposed Walker’s nomination over his criticisms of the Affordable Care Act. Walker described the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the health care law as “indefensible” and “catastrophic,” and he praised Kavanaugh for writing the “road map” for overturning it.
The groups also raised concerns about what they considered Walker’s extreme ideology. When Walker was formally sworn into his District Court seat in March, he criticized the American Bar Association, saying that “although we celebrate today, we cannot take for granted tomorrow or we will lose our courts and our country to critics who call us terrifying and who describe us as deplorable.” He went on to say that “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.”
Collins said these remarks are why she opposed him.
“While Judge Walker is entitled to hold whatever personal views he chooses, his ideological comments on the very day he was formally installed as a federal judge ― about winning and losing the courts and a war against those who hold views that are different from his own ― prevent me from supporting his elevation to the second-highest court in the land,” she said in a statement.
Meanwhile, McConnell raved about Walker’s credentials, saying he “demonstrated an impressive grasp of legal precedent” during his confirmation hearing.
“When the Senate confirms Judge Walker to this vacancy, we will not just be promoting a wildly admired legal expert and proven judge to a role for which he is obviously qualified,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “We will also be adding to a time-honored tradition of finding men and women from all across the country to help ensure that this enormously consequential bench here in our nation’s capital is refreshed with talent from all parts of America.”
Fellow Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (R) praised Walker for his recent ruling denying the Democratic mayor of Louisville, Kentucky, the ability to ban drive-in church services on Easter Sunday to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“Already, Judge Walker has proven how seriously he takes his oath to the Constitution,” Paul said. “I have been proud to support his nomination throughout this process.”
Like so many of President Donald Trump’s court picks, Walker is a member of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization. The group has effectively served as a pipeline for dozens of the president’s appeals court nominees. They all have something in common, too: They have records of being hostile toward women’s reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights and voting rights.
Kavanaugh is also a member of the Federalist Society. It certainly helped with Walker’s rapid ascent that he publicly went to bat for his former boss during Kavanaugh’s 2018 Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Walker went out of his way to defend Kavanaugh against the credible allegations by Christine Blasey Ford that he sexually assaulted her in high school. Walker did more than 70 media interviews challenging Ford.
“She may believe that assailant was Brett Kavanaugh,” Walker said in a Fox News interview in September 2018. “I believe she’s mistaken.”
Walker’s confirmation means that Trump has now put in place 52 appeals court judges ― more than any other president by this point in his first term. It also means that more than a quarter of the nation’s appeals court judges are Trump appointees.