Sen. Joni Ernst joined 51 of her Republican colleagues on Thursday in voting to confirm Justin Walker, a Mitch McConnell apprentice, to a lifetime appointment on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the nation’s second-most powerful court.
Walker, a 38-year-old district court judge from Kentucky, is the 52nd circuit court judge and 199th federal judge confirmed to a lifetime appointment during President Donald Trump’s tenure. McConnell and Walker both are natives of Louisville and first met when Walker interviewed the senator for a high school research paper, according to the New York Times.
“Mr. McConnell personally lobbied President Trump to choose Judge Walker, a former intern in his office, for the powerful job,” the Times reported.
Last month, when Walker appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee for his confirmation hearing, Ernst did not ask Walker to opine on specific legal cases, but wanted to know about the “values and morals” he holds as a judge.
“What matters to me and what matters to the people of Iowa isn’t necessarily the political leanings that so many folks will focus on, but your judicial philosophy,” Ernst said during the May 6 committee hearing. “What is your judicial philosophy? That’s what I want to talk about today. Bottom line, this is what Iowans ask me: Are you an originalist?”
In response, Walker said he was “absolutely unabashed in my belief that a judge must look at the original meaning of text and must go where the text is and be bound by the text — as well as structure … relevant precedence — because it’s not the job of a judge to say what he thinks the law should be … it’s the job of a judge to say, ‘here’s the law that Congress passed’ and then to apply that law as it was written.”
For many Democrats, the most glaring mark against Walker is his past comments about the Affordable Care Act. He has called Chief Justice John Robert’s 2012 Supreme Court decision to uphold the health care law “indefensible.”
The ACA is making its way through the court system again, this time with a Trump Administration lawsuit seeking to dismantle the law by securing a ruling that says the individual insurance mandate is unconstitutional.
Ernst has refused to take a position on the lawsuit, telling reporters: “I’m not saying whether I support it or not. It’s in the hands of the Supreme Court now, so we’ll see.”
“At the same time Sen. Ernst is refusing to come clean on the GOP’s lawsuit to repeal the entire Affordable Care Act, she has empowered Mitch McConnell’s grossly unqualified acolyte with the authority to block progress on health care for decades to come,” said Jeremy Busch, an Iowa Democratic Party spokesperson, in a statement. “[Thursday’s] vote yet again demonstrates that Sen. Ernst’s allegiance to Mitch McConnell and corporate special interests comes first — even when it puts the health and wellbeing of Iowans on the line.”
In 2019, when Walker was a nominee to the District Court for the Western District of Kentucky, the American Bar Association sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee rating him as “not qualified” to serve.
“While we respect the distinguished clerkships for which Mr. Walker was selected following graduation from law school and his current academic experience, his legal practice to date does not compensate for the short time the nominee has practiced law and/or his lack of substantial courtroom experience,” the ABA wrote.
The ABA pointed out Walker’s “absence of any significant trial experience” and the fact he “has never tried a case as lead or co-counsel, whether civil or criminal.”
By Elizabeth Meyer
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