Court Battles

Roberts rejects request for inquiry into appellate judge’s retirement

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts has rejected a request for an investigation into the retirement of an appeals court judge that created a coveted vacancy for President Trump to fill months before the 2020 election.

The chief judge for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals had asked Roberts to assign another court to conduct a judicial misconduct inquiry into Judge Thomas B. Griffith’s retirement after a progressive group submitted a complaint.

However, Roberts “has determined that a transfer of the matter is not appropriate at this juncture of the proceeding” because the complaint did not provide probable cause for an inquiry, Jeffrey Minear, a counselor for Roberts, wrote in a letter on Friday.

The progressive group Demand Justice had asked D.C. Circuit Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan for the investigation following Griffith’s retirement announcement and a story in The New York Times that reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was urging veteran conservative judges to retire this year so that Trump could replace them with ideological allies before the election.

“John Roberts is officially covering up Mitch McConnell’s court-packing project. The highly respected chief judge of the nation’s second-highest court thought this matter should be referred for further investigation, and now Roberts is ignoring that recommendation and blocking any further look into McConnell’s campaign to pressure federal judges to retire,” Brian Fallon, Demand Justice’s executive director, said in a statement Friday. “After bragging about those efforts as recently as two months ago, McConnell ducked every question this week about what conversations he had. Judge Srinivasan was right to forward this matter along, and Roberts’ decision to turn a blind eye to McConnell’s conduct shows how deeply politicized the courts have become.”

Trump last month nominated Justin Walker, a 38-year-old McConnell protégé who has served as a federal judge in Kentucky for the past six months, to fill Griffith’s seat.

Walker told the Senate Judiciary Committee in a questionnaire that he met with McConnell and Trump in the months before Griffith’s retirement announcement in March.

The D.C. Circuit is considered the second most important court in the country because of its jurisdiction over many government agencies and is something of a proving ground for potential Supreme Court nominees. 

Updated: 5:30 p.m.

Tags Donald Trump Mitch McConnell

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