WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A federal judge who is a protege of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and ally of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh is too inexperienced to sit on a powerful federal appeals court in Washington, Democratic lawmakers said on Wednesday.
Justin Reed Walker testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination to be United States Circuit Judge for the District of Columbia Circuit, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 6, 2020. Caroline Brehman/Pool via REUTERS
Democratic opposition to President Donald Trump’s nomination of Justin Walker to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit coalesced as the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee began the judge’s confirmation hearing.
“After serving just six months as a district court judge he has now been nominated to the D.C. Circuit,” Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said. “In his short time on the bench, Judge Walker, just 37 years old, has had virtually none of the experience one would expect of a district court judge before elevation to the circuit.”
Walker, who has served as a federal district court judge in Kentucky since October, is close to McConnell. He was also a vocal ally of Kavanaugh during his confirmation battle in the Senate in 2018.
After President Donald Trump nominated Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, Walker frequently appeared on cable TV, including Fox News, talking up the nominee’s conservative credentials.
Walker would replace Thomas Griffith, appointed by former President George W. Bush, who has announced his plans to retire. Walker’s appointment would not change the ideological balance of the D.C. Circuit, which currently has a 7-4 majority of Democratic appointees.
Although based in Kentucky, where he has taught at the University of Louisville’s law school, Walker has Washington ties. He clerked for Kavanaugh on the D.C. Circuit, where Kavanaugh served for 12 years. He also clerked for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who Kavanaugh replaced in 2018.
The D.C. Circuit is considered the second most powerful court in the United States, in part because it handles many high-stakes challenges to federal regulations. Four of the current nine justices on the Supreme Court were previously D.C. Circuit judges.
The Senate convened in Washington for the first time in nearly six weeks on Monday, despite concern it might put lawmakers and staff at risk of contracting the novel coronavirus.
With Washington still under a stay-at-home order, lawmakers were advised by the congressional physician to wear masks, stay six feet (2 meters) apart and limit the number of staff on Capitol Hill.
Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Additional reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Paul Simao