President Donald Trump announced Friday that he would name Justin Walker, a favorite of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to one of the most powerful appellate courts in the country.
Walker will be one of the youngest nominees ever for a seat on the US District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and the nomination will draw controversy as just last year Walker was confirmed to a district court in Kentucky, despite having received a “not qualified” rating” from the American Bar Association.
The nomination, coming while much of the country is closed down because of the coronavirus pandemic, is the latest move by the President to reshape the appellate courts with a record number of his nominees.
The DC appeals court, located blocks from the Supreme Court, has jurisdiction over federal agencies and is acknowledged as a breeding ground for future Supreme Court justices. Chief Justice John Roberts served there, as did Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s final nominee to the bench, which was blocked by McConnell.
Walker, 37, was confirmed in October by a vote of 50-41 to sit on the US District Court for the Western District of Kentucky.
At his confirmation hearing, McConnell said that Walker was “unquestionably the most outstanding nomination that I’ve ever recommended to presidents to serve on the bench in Kentucky.”
Walker served as a clerk to Justice Anthony Kennedy and then Kavanaugh when he sat as a lower court judge. Walker was one of Kavanaugh’s most vocal defenders during the Supreme Court fight in 2018, giving dozens of interviews to support his former boss.
“We are thrilled with President Trump’s nomination of Judge Justin Walker to serve on the D.C. Circuit, a key federal appellate court that protects all Americans from the arbitrary, harmful government actions by Washington’s out-of-control administrative state,” said Mike Davis, former nominations counsel for the senate judiciary committee who now runs a group called the Article 3 Project in support of Trump’s nominees.
But Walker’s own confirmation hearing for the District Court seat was controversial after the ABA deemed him “not qualified” noting in part that he had only graduated from law school in the last decade.
“The Standing Committee believes that Mr. Walker does not presently have the requisite trial or litigation experience or its equivalent,” the ABA’s Paul T. Moxley wrote last July. At the time, Moxley said. Walker “does not meet the minimum professional competence standard necessary to perform the responsibilities required by the high office of a federal district court judge.”
The Leadership Conference of Civil & Human Rights wrote a letter opposing Walker’s confirmation calling him a “right-wing partisan operative” who was at the time Trump’s 7th judicial nominee to be rated “not qualified” in the first three years of a presidency.
As the Covid-19 crisis was unfurling last month, McConnell and Kavanaugh travelled to Kentucky for Walker’s ceremonial swearing in, according to the Courier Journal. They were joined by former White House counsel Don McGahn.
McConnell has been the driving force behind Trump’s move to transform the courts. According to the Courier Journal, McConnell said at the event that “it’s safe to say that in recent years there’s been a lot of enthusiasm surrounding judicial confirmations—to put it mildly – brave public servants who’ve been tossed into the media circus and subjected to partisan attacks.”
When Walker was first nominated to serve on the federal bench, he was working in private practice and served as an assistant professor at the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law. He was born in 1982, graduated from Duke University in 2004, Harvard Law School in 2009.