In March, as congressional leaders worked to reach a deal on a COVID-19 relief package, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell shut down the Senate so he could attend the swearing-in ceremony for his political protégé, Justin Walker, who was confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky last October.
Now, smack in the middle of the pandemic, McConnell has forced senators back to Washington to quickly consider his crony Walker for a seat on the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit—a seat that does not even become vacant until September.
McConnell’s personal obsession with transforming the federal courts and his refusal to provide relief for those people most impacted by this pandemic—despite calls from civil rights groups and Senate Democrats to focus on the response to the pandemic and provide oversight—is astonishing, irresponsible and immoral.
By bringing senators back, McConnell is ignoring both D.C.’s stay at home order and the Capitol attending physician’s recommendation—necessitating the need to call back their staff and those who ensure the maintenance and safety of the Senate office buildings.
He is interested in one thing only: “My motto for the year is leave no vacancy behind. That hasn’t changed.”
He added, “As soon as we get back in session, we’ll start confirming judges again. We need to have hearings, and we need to confirm judges… The pandemic will not prevent us from achieving that goal.”
The most disturbing part of this is that McConnell is choosing to install judges like Justin Walker—whose records demonstrate hostility towards access to health care—instead of prioritizing responses to the pandemic. And, of course, COVID-19 continues to expose how desperately we need accessible, affordable health care in this country.
Walker further disparaged the ACA at his investiture, where he said that the “worst words” he ever heard from Justice Kennedy (for whom he also clerked) were: “The Chief Justice thinks this might be a tax”—a reference to the 2012 Supreme Court decision in which Chief Justice Roberts cast the deciding vote to uphold the ACA on the grounds that the penalty imposed by the individual mandate constituted a tax. Walker has called this Supreme Court decision “indefensible” and “catastrophic.”
Walker was also rated “Not Qualified” by the American Bar Association for the lower district court seat that he now occupies because he did “not meet the minimum professional competence standard” and “has a very substantial gap” in experience needed to serve as a federal trial court judge.
Walker’s nomination also stands out as a prime example of the triumph of nepotism over neutrality. Donald Trump knows that the D.C. Circuit is the arbiter of many important civil rights, civil liberties and national security issues. And Trump’s controversial appointments of two former administration officials—Neomi Rao and Greg Katsas—to this court make clear that he is seeking judges who will act as his personal protectors.
The White House first contacted Walker about a potential nomination to the D.C. Circuit in September 2018, when he was just nine years out of law school and in the middle of his public relations blitz in defense of Kavanaugh.
Then, in January 2020—two months before a vacancy to the same circuit court was announced—Walker’s patron McConnell accompanied him to another White House interview for the D.C. Circuit—amid the Senate’s impeachment process. There are numerous questions about the timing of Walker’s consideration for this important seat.
Walker is unfit for the D.C. Circuit. And, more importantly, this should not be the Senate’s priority at this moment.
Yet, with Trump and McConnell nearing 200 lifetime judicial appointments, they are making good on their agenda to reshape the federal judiciary with extreme nominees who will turn back the clock on our hard-fought rights and protections.
Washington Post’s satirical column, aptly titled, “Sitting on a throne of skulls, Mitch McConnell confirms his 8,999th judge,” puts a depressing but fine point on this: Trump and McConnell would apparently do anything to confirm “just one more” judge—especially one like Walker who views his role no differently than his role as a Fox News commentator.