The Senate on Thursday confirmed district judge Justin Walker to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
The 51-42 vote fell largely along party lines. Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGraham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks On The Money — Biden sticks with Powell despite pressure Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall MORE (R-Maine), who faces a difficult reelection bid, was the only GOP senator who voted against Walker.
Thursday’s vote caps off a months-long confirmation fight, which court watchers on both sides viewed as the most consequential court battle the Senate is expected to have this year absent a Supreme Court vacancy.
Walker, 38, previously clerked for Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughRoe redux: Is 'viability' still viable as a constitutional doctrine? Graham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks Race is not central to Rittenhouse case — but the media shout it anyway MORE when he was a judge on the D.C. Circuit, and he is a former intern and favorite of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFive issues that will define the months until the midterms Key senators to watch on Democrats' social spending bill Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves MORE (R-Ky.).
McConnell praised Walker ahead of Thursday's vote, calling him a "widely admired legal expert and proven judge."
"Judge Walker will be putting his legal brilliance and his exceptional judicial temperament to work not just for his home state, but for our entire nation, and in even more consequential ways," he added.
The Senate previously confirmed Walker to be a judge for the western district of Kentucky in 2019. Trump announced in May that he was nominating him to the D.C. Circuit, which is widely viewed as the second most powerful court behind the Supreme Court because Congress and government agencies are included in its jurisdiction.
Republicans and conservative outside groups largely lined up behind Walker. The American Bar Association, which previously rated Walker as "not qualified" for the district judge position, rated Walker as "well qualified" for the circuit court seat.
But Collins said in a statement that she would oppose Walker's nomination, making it the latest of several Trump judges the GOP senator has voted against.
"While Judge Walker is entitled to hold whatever personal views he chooses, his ideological comments on the very day he was formally installed as a federal judge — about winning and losing the courts and a war against those who hold views that are different from his own — prevent me from supporting his elevation to the second highest court in the land," Collins said in a statement.
Democrats homed in on Walker's comments on the 2012 Supreme Court ruling, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, that upheld ObamaCare's individual mandate by classifying it as a tax.
“The greatest words you can hear from Justice Kennedy are: ‘You’re hired.’ ... And the worst words are: ‘The chief justice thinks this might be a tax,’ ” Walker said during an event in Kentucky.
Walker told the Senate Judiciary Committee last month that the remarks were a joke, calling it a “lighthearted allusion” to former Justice Anthony Kennedy’s dissent to the majority opinion.
“It was nothing more than really a tongue-in-cheek way of recognizing what’s certainly in the public record already,” he said.
But that did little to win over Democrats, none of whom supported his nomination.
Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocratic frustration growing over stagnating voting rights bills Schumer mourns death of 'amazing' father Feehery: The honest contrarian MORE (D-N.Y.) knocked Walker ahead of the vote, arguing that he was being nominated to the circuit court because of his connection to McConnell.
"He is just on the court for a few months, but he is friends with Leader McConnell, so he gets rushed to this very high court without the necessary experience and maturity of judgment. ... Leader McConnell wants to give Justin Walker — a former intern of his — a promotion to the D.C. Circuit," he said.