Controversial Trump Nominee Lands DC Circuit Seat

Justin Walker testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 6, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool Photo via AP)

WASHINGTON (CN) — In the face of firm opposition from Democrats and with less than a year of experience on the bench, Judge Justin Walker landed a seat on the nation’s second highest court Thursday after the GOP-controlled Senate confirmed his nomination to the D.C. Circuit with a 51-42 vote. 

In the midst of global pandemic, Democrats have raised serious concern over the judge’s calls to overturn the Affordable Care Act, and questioned his fitness for the heavyweight appointment. The vote handing the judge a lifetime seat on the Washington appeals court fell closely on party lines, with only Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, breaking rank.

Walker had never presided over a jury trial and penned just 12 opinions during his short stint on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky when he came before the Senate Judiciary Committee last month. 

While Republicans raced to elevate the judge to the D.C. Circuit, said to be a farm team for the Supreme Court, Democrats accused their colleagues of cronyism and pointed to 38-year-old Walker’s lifelong relationship with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. 

But the Republican senator from Kentucky praised Walker on Thursday as a sharp, fair and open-minded son of the Bluegrass State. 

“We’ll 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,” McConnell said from the Senate floor ahead of the vote to confirm the judicial nominee. 

But Democrats view Walker as anything but open-minded.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., before the Senate Judiciary Committee voted on party lines earlier this month to advance Walker’s nomination to a floor vote, said the judge is driven by policy goals. 

“And first among them to destroy the Affordable Care Act and our health care system,” Blumenthal added. 

Walker has publicly opined that the Supreme Court upholding the constitutionality of the ACA, otherwise known as Obamacare, in 2012 was an “indefensible decision.” 

A former clerk to Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Walker loudly defended the judge he worked under on the D.C. Circuit when Christine Blasey Ford accused the Supreme Court nominee in 2018 of sexually assaulting her in high school. 

During his investiture speech in March, Walker boldly declared that while his “legal principles are prevalent, they have not yet prevailed,” and channeled his former boss’ reputation as a conservative stalwart on the high court. 

“Because in Kavanaugh’s America, we will not surrender while you wage war on our work, or our cause, or our hope, or our dream,” Walker said in March. 

Drilled by Democrats on his apparent crusade for conservative policies to prevail over the American political system, Walker calmly brushed off concerns about his impartiality during his nomination hearing.

“I wasn’t trying to inject politics into my speech,” the then-nominee said in May. “I was trying to push back against the politicization of the judiciary.”

McConnell claimed Thursday that Walker had “wasted no time building an equally strong reputation for the fairness” that Americans deserve from their judges when he began presiding over his Kentucky courtroom beginning in October 2019. 

But several senators raised issues during Walker’s nomination hearing with the judge’s widely televised public opinions. The nominee conducted 162 media interviews in 2018, including 35 Fox News appearances, backing Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, according to the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. 

The American Bar Association had ranked Walker well qualified for the appellate judgeship, an upgrade from its previous finding last year that he was not qualified for his district appointment.

But McConnell unequivocally backed the nominee from his home state on Thursday.

“Of course, Judge Walker’s credentials were already sterling,” the GOP leader said. 

The judge vacating the seat Walker is now set to assume is not scheduled to retire until September, leaving Democrats to question the rush to confirm. 

A long list of organizations including the Human Rights Coalition, National Education Association and NAACP opposed Walker making the jump to the D.C. Circuit, where he will join fellow Trump nominee U.S. Circuit Judge Neomi Rao.

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