McConnell protege Justin Walker confirmed to powerful DC Circuit Court

Justin Reed Walker puts on a mask after testifying before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination to be United States Circuit Judge for the District of Columbia Circuit on May 6, 2020. He was confirmed Thursday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Justin Reed Walker puts on a mask after testifying before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination to be United States Circuit Judge for the District of Columbia Circuit on May 6, 2020. He was confirmed Thursday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Posted June 18, 2020 at 2:28pm

The Senate voted 51-42 to confirm Justin Walker, a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky for less than one year but a protege of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

[Judge Justin Walker is a window into McConnell’s sway on federal courts]

On the Senate floor Thursday, McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, called Walker a “widely admired legal expert and proven judge” who is qualified to serve on the “enormously consequential bench.”

When President Donald Trump nominated Walker to the Kentucky district court, the American Bar Association rated him in October as “unqualified.”

In May, after Trump nominated him to the D.C. Circuit, the ABA rated him “well qualified,” reasoning that an appellate judgeship is “focused differently.”

Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer repeated Democratic criticism of Walker, calling him a “hard-right-wing” judge.

Schumer, critical of Walker’s “less than a year’s worth of experience as a district court judge,” said Walker’s relationship with McConnell led to the “rushed” confirmation “to this very high court without the necessary experience and maturity of judgment.”

Walker, who graduated from Harvard magna cum laude, clerked for Brett Kavanaugh, when he was on the D.C. Circuit and before he was confirmed to the Supreme Court, as well as former Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, whom Kavanaugh succeeded.

During Kavanaugh’s confirmation process, Walker defended him after Christine Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her decades earlier at a high school party.

During Walker’s Sept. 27, 2018 Fox News appearance, he said he believed Ford was mistaken about the identity of her attacker, because he worked with Kavanaugh every day for a year and trusts his denial.

Democrats roundly criticized comments Walker made about his judicial approach and his criticism of rulings that upheld the 2010 health care law, but they were ultimately unsuccessful in slowing, much less stopping, his confirmation.

Todd Ruger contributed to this report.