WASHINGTON ― Senate Republicans voted Thursday to confirm Justin Walker to a lifetime seat on a federal court, despite the fact that he earned a rare and embarrassing “not qualified” rating from the American Bar Association.
Every Republican present voted to put Walker, 37, onto the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky. Every Democrat present voted no. The full vote tally is here.
Walker “does not presently have the requisite trial or litigation experience” to be a federal judge, the ABA’s Standing Committee concluded in a July review.
The nonpartisan ABA, which thoroughly reviews each of a president’s judicial nominees, typically requires that someone chosen for a lifetime court seat have at least 12 years of experience practicing law. It’s not an automatic disqualifier, though, if a nominee has other substantial trial or courtroom experience. Walker falls short on both counts.
“Mr. Walker’s experience to date has a very substantial gap, namely the absence of any significant trial experience,” the ABA found. “Mr. Walker has never tried a case as lead or co-counsel, whether civil or criminal. ... In addition, 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.”
So why did Walker get nominated? Because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wanted him to. He recommended Walker to the White House.
“This is unquestionably the most outstanding nomination that I’ve ever recommended to Presidents to serve on the bench in Kentucky,” McConnell tweeted in July, just a day after the ABA issued its rating of Walker’s qualifications.
McConnell praised Walker again on Thursday on the Senate floor, calling him “brilliant” and an “outstanding choice” by the president (even though McConnell chose him).
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) noted how rare it is for the Senate to move forward with a judicial nominee with a “not qualified” rating.
“It seems the only reason Mr. Walker has been nominated for an austere judgeship is his membership in the Federalist Society,” Schumer said on the Senate floor, referring to the conservative legal group driving many of the White House’s court picks. “And his far-right-wing views on health care, civil rights and executive power.”
Walker, a University of Louisville law professor, previously clerked for Brett Kavanaugh, also a Federalist Society member, when he was a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. After Kavanaugh was nominated to the Supreme Court in 2018, Walker went out of his way to defend his former boss against credible allegations by Christine Blasey Ford that he sexually assaulted her in high school. Walker participated in 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 ascension marks the fifth time that Republicans have confirmed one of President Donald Trump’s court picks who earned a “not qualified” rating from the ABA.
Others 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 Judge Jonathan Kobes, who the ABA found “was unable to provide sufficient writing samples of the caliber required” of a circuit judge.
By contrast, in his entire eight years in the White House, President Barack Obama didn’t nominate anyone to be a lifetime federal judge who earned a “not qualified” ABA rating.