ATF Nominee Pushes Back on More Gun Regulations

WASHINGTON (CN) – President Donald Trump’s choice to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives told lawmakers Wednesday he would not back any additional regulations on guns if he were confirmed to the position.

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

“I don’t personally support any more restrictions than are currently in the law,” Kenneth “Chuck” Canterbury told the Senate Judiciary Committee. He later said he would not try to change current gun regulations through administrative processes if he were confirmed to be the director of ATF.

Canterbury, who has served as the president of the Fraternal Order of Police since 2003, was initially reluctant to answer questions about his personal views on various gun control policies, with Senator John Kennedy, R-La., at one point accusing him of “being evasive.”

But Canterbury eventually told Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that he would not support a ban on so-called assault weapons if confirmed to lead ATF, giving the same answer when asked if he would support an expansion of federal background checks to cover private gun sales.

The opposition to those policies differs from positions he took publicly as the head of the Fraternal Order of Police. Canterbury explained the shift by saying he was obligated in his job to publicly support positions the group took.

“Those positions were made by the board of directors,” Canterbury explained when Cruz asked him about the background checks expansion. “As the official spokesman of the FOP, it’s my job to espouse the opinion of the membership.”

Canterbury is also a member of the FOP national executive board, a job he has held since 1995. He worked for 26 years as a police officer, eventually becoming deputy chief in Horry County, South Carolina.

He appeared Wednesday alongside three of Trump’s judicial nominees to courts in deep-red states.

Among them was Justin Walker, a nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky who faced questions about his experience after the American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary rated him not qualified for the position.

A substantial majority of the committee, which is defined as between 10 and 13 members, found Walker not qualified, while a minority rated him qualified.

In a letter to Judiciary Committee Chair Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and top Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the chair of the ABA Standing Committee said the 37-year-old Walker received the rating he did because he fell short of the group’s guidelines for the length of legal experience judicial candidates should have before taking the bench.

Paul Moxley, the ABA Standing Committee chair, said the group particularly faulted Walker for his lack of “significant trial experience.” Walker has never been the lead counsel on a trial and told the Senate Judiciary Committee he has only handled one deposition during his career.

After graduating from Harvard Law School in 2009, Walker took a clerkship with then-D.C. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh and a year later clerked for Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court.

He now works as a law professor at the University of Louisville, at the same time running his own firm. He also spent time as an associate at the firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher.

“While we respect the distinguished clerkships for which Mr. Walker was selected following graduation from law school and his current academic experience, his legal practice to date does not compensate for the short time the nominee has practiced law and/or his lack of substantial courtroom experience,” Moxley wrote.

Moxley did say the Standing Committee believes Walker has “great potential” to work as a judge someday. The group’s guidelines state nominees should have 12 years of experience practicing law before becoming a judge.

Walker defended his qualifications on Wednesday, saying his academic research and clerkships have given him experience that will translate to the federal bench.

“I think that my experience exploring criminal procedure, evidence, civil procedure, constitutional law, has prepared me to analyze the kinds of complex legal questions that judges deal with, especially in the majority of what they do, which is motion work,” Walker told Feinstein.

Walker comes to the committee with the support of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who called Walker “unquestionably the most outstanding” nominee he has recommended to a president while serving as senator.

Former Arkansas Solicitor General Lee Rudofsky, now up for a position on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, also testified before the committee Wednesday and downplayed his participation in a friend-of-the-court brief that urged the Supreme Court to strike down as unconstitutional state bans on gay marriage.

Rudofsky did not address his views on the issue of same-sex marriage when commenting on the brief, but said that after learning more about the 14th Amendment during his time as Arkansas’ solicitor general, he has come to disagree with the legal arguments in the document.

“When I signed those briefs – I should say when I joined those amicus briefs – I was not an expert in 14th Amendment jurisprudence,” Rudofsky said. “Since then, as solicitor general I’ve become much more familiar with that area of law and I have to say if I had it to do over again, as a legal matter, I would not have signed those briefs.”

Rudofsky currently works as senior director of Walmart’s global anti-corruption compliance team, having spent 2015 to 2018 as Arkansas solicitor general. He also did multiple stints at the Washington, D.C., firm Kirkland & Ellis and worked as deputy general counsel on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2012.

U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama nominee Austin Huffaker also testified at the hearing Wednesday, but received few questions from senators.

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