WASHINGTON ― Senate Republicans voted Thursday to advance another of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees, Justin Walker, who earned a rare and embarrassing “not qualified” rating from the American Bar Association.
Every Republican on the Judiciary Committee voted to advance Walker, the president’s pick for a lifetime seat on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky, to the Senate floor for a confirmation vote. Every Democrat voted no.
Walker, 37, “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 concluded. “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.”
Ahead of the committee vote, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) chided Republicans for voting to advance Walker despite his obvious lack of qualifications ― something they’ve done with other Trump court picks, too.
“Some of the people who have come before us have literally never, ever entered a courtroom in their lives,” Durbin said. “They may not have ever seen a “Perry Mason” show and certainly didn’t stick around for the second half of any “Law and Order” episode. Now they want to be trial judges for the rest of their natural lives.”
“Come on,” he added. “There have got to be more qualified Republican attorneys in America than the ones we’re seeing before this committee.”
To date, since Trump became president, Senate Republicans have confirmed at least four lifetime federal judges who earned “not qualified” ratings from the ABA.
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.
For context, 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.
Walker, a University of Louisville law professor who previously clerked for then-D.C. Circuit Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh, may be a weak candidate for a federal judgeship, but he has a strong ally in the Senate: Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who recommended him 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 awful rating of Walker’s qualifications.
When 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 when they were high school students. Walker participated in more than 70 media interviews challenging Ford.
“She may believe that assailant was Brett Kavanaugh,” Walker claimed in a Fox News interview in September 2018. “I believe she’s mistaken.”
Walker’s nomination now heads to the full Senate for a confirmation vote.