WASHINGTON (CN) - The Senate on Thursday approved a University of Louisville law professor to a seat on a federal court in Kentucky, despite the American Bar Association deeming him not qualified for the position based on a lack of trial experience.
Confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky in a 50-41 vote Thursday afternoon, Justin Walker has worked as a law professor at the University of Louisville since 2015 and also boasts clerkships with former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and then-D.C. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh on his resume.
As a former clerk to the newest Supreme Court justice, Walker was a fixture on television and radio during Kavanaugh's contentious nomination process, which became a bitter fight after Kavanaugh faced multiple accusations of sexual misconduct dating back to his time in high school and college.
Walker published a paper in 2018 expressing optimism that Kavanaugh would lead the court in paring back judicial doctrines that have given administrative agencies more room to issue regulations, touching on a theme among Trump nominees that have expressed interest in courts reining in the power of federal agencies.
He also spent time as an associate at the Washington, D.C., firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher and operated his own practice out of his home from 2013 until this year.
When introducing Walker at his nomination hearing in July, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called Walker "unquestionably the most outstanding" judicial nominee he has recommended during his time in the Senate. The chamber’s top Republican reaffirmed his support for Walker on Thursday.
"His thoughtful and deliberate approach have fit the mold of a federal judge who, imagine this, will uphold the laws and the Constitution, as they're actually written, not as he might wish them to be," McConnell said on the Senate floor before the vote. "So I'm confident Mr. Walker will serve our commonwealth and the country extremely well as a district judge."
At 37, Walker is young for a judicial nominee and his age and background have led some of the controversy surrounding his nomination.
The American Bar Association's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary rated Walker not qualified, with the committee's chair Paul Moxley telling senators while Walker has "great potential" to be a judge in the future, his experience at this point in his career is lacking.
"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 in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee at the end of July.
Walker has never served as lead counsel at trial and told senators he has only handled one deposition during his career.
But he defended his qualifications for the position, saying that his time teaching criminal procedure and maintaining his own law practice has given him enough experience to do the job of a federal judge.
"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 said at his nomination hearing.
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