Court Battles

Trump nominates former Kavanaugh clerk for influential appeals court

Judges use a small wooden mallet to signal for attention or order.

President Trump announced on Friday that he would be nominating Justin Walker, a federal judge in Kentucky and a protégé of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, to a seat on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, considered the second most important court in the country.

Walker, 37, was confirmed for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky just five months ago.

He was a controversial nominee for the district court seat and was approved by committee and confirmed on the Senate floor in party-line votes. Walker was rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association (ABA) for his lack of trial experience, having apparently never tried a case in court.

“In addition, based on review of his biographical information and conversations with Mr. Walker, it was challenging to determine how much of his ten years since graduation from law school has been spent in the practice of law,” the ABA said in a letter to the Senate last year. “Even crediting the time spent in judicial clerkships, Mr. Walker’s practice experience is less than his 10 years since graduation and significantly less than the 12 years of legal practice experience stated in our criteria.”

After graduating from Harvard Law School, Walker clerked for Kavanaugh, then a D.C. Circuit judge, and former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. He went on to work at two private law firms and teach part-time at the University of Louisville law school.

Before attending law school, Walker served as a speechwriter to former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

He’ll be replacing Judge Thomas Griffith, a George W. Bush appointee, who recently announced that he’d be retiring from the D.C. Circuit in August.

The coveted D.C. Circuit seat comes with a lifetime appointment and is occasionally a proving ground for future Supreme Court justices.

Walker is a favorite of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who last month joined Kavanaugh in praising the young judge at an oath ceremony in Kentucky.

“Judge Walker is a brilliant and fair jurist who reveres the Constitution and our nation’s founding principles,” McConnell said in a statement. “He understands the crucial but limited role that a judge must play in our constitutional order. I have known my fellow Kentuckian for a long time. The entire country will benefit from having this brilliant, principled, and fair-minded legal expert on this consequential bench.”

The New York Times reported last month that McConnell had been urging veteran senior judges around the country to retire this year to ensure that Republicans could fill their seats with ideological allies ahead of an election cycle fraught with uncertainty.

Griffith announced his retirement shortly after writing an opinion that ruled the House could not subpoena former White House counsel Don McGahn in a decision that would have rendered congressional subpoenas legally unenforceable.

The D.C. Circuit vacated the decision and will be rehearing the case later this month.

Updated at 12:50 p.m.

Tags Brett Kavanaugh Courts Donald Trump Mitch McConnell
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