Court Battles

Senate panel sends Trump appeals court pick to floor in party-line vote

The Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee voted along party lines Thursday to elevate U.S. District Judge Justin Walker to the influential federal appeals court in Washington, D.C.

The confirmation fight now moves to the full Senate, which will decide whether to hand President Trump his third appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, sometimes referred to as the second most important court in the country.

The committee voted 12-10 to advance Walker, a 38-year-old who is considered a protege of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), after less than a year on the federal bench in the Western District of Kentucky.

Democratic members of the committee expressed their opposition to Walker at a Thursday hearing, citing his limited experience and his previous criticism of the Affordable Care Act.

"Can anyone here say with a straight face that this 38-year-old individual, with no practical courtroom experience and a few months - a few months - on the job as a district court judge in the Commonwealth of Kentucky is the best person for this job?" Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) asked rhetorically. "He's not and we know it."

Despite Walker's limited experience, the American Bar Association (ABA) told the committee last month that Walker is "well qualified" for the D.C. Circuit. That came after the ABA had declared him "not qualified" last year for his current position on a Kentucky district court.

Walker has been no stranger to controversy in recent years. A former clerk for Brett Kavanaugh while on the D.C. Circuit, Walker fiercely defended his onetime boss in the press during Kavanaugh's explosive Supreme Court confirmation battle.

More recently, Walker made headlines when he ruled against an order from Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer (D) to disallow drive-in church services on Easter, saying the measures "criminalized the communal celebration" of the Christian holy day.

Trump tapped Walker to replace Judge Thomas Griffith, who announced plans in March to retire later this year from the D.C. Circuit. If confirmed, Walker would join two other Trump nominees, Judges Gregory Katsas and Neomi Rao, on the bench.  

Trump's life-tenured appointees now make up more than a quarter of all federal appeals court judgeships.

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