Judge asks for investigation of McConnell’s role in creating federal bench vacancy

Judge asks for investigation of McConnell’s role in creating federal bench vacancy
Andrew Wolfson, Louisville Courier Journal

Just days before the Senate Judiciary Committee is set to consider the nomination of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s protégé to a federal appeals court, the court’s chief judge requested an investigation of McConnell’s role in creating the vacancy.

Demand Justice, a progressive judicial watchdog group, requested a postponement of Wednesday’s scheduled hearing before the Senate Judiciary on the nomination of Judge Justin Walker of Louisville to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

The chief judge of that court issued a public order May 1 asking U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts to transfer to another circuit Demand Justice’s allegation that a judge on the court may have been persuaded to retire to allow another judge to take his seat. 

The order, a copy of which The Courier Journal obtained Monday night, does not mention Walker by name.

However, on Monday, the New York Times reported that the court’s chief judge, Sri Srinivasan, has referred Demand Justice’s request for an investigation to Roberts so it can be transferred to another circuit for review and disposition.

Srinivasan was appointed by President Barack Obama.

The Courier Journal and the Times previously reported that McConnell privately lobbied judges to retire in time for Donald Trump to fill their seats this term.

The Washington Post recently reported that the White House has been considering Walker for a seat on the appeals court since long before Judge Thomas Griffith, who occupies the seat, announced his retirement.

In a news release, Demand Justice said: “Justin Walker’s nomination was already controversial, but this emerging investigation means an even darker cloud is hanging over his appointment. The hearing on Walker’s nomination should not go forward until we know the truth about what ethical lines Mitch McConnell crossed to get Walker this seat.’’

The group said that at least, “McConnell should come clean about whether and when he contacted Judge Thomas Griffith prior to his sudden retirement.”

McConnell spokesman David Popp said Walker’s confirmation will continue.

“Leader McConnell looks forward to watching Judge Walker’s confirmation hearing this week,” Popp said in a statement.

At McConnell’s urging, President Donald Trump nominated Walker for the D.C. Circuit Court less than six months after he took his seat on the U.S. District Court in Louisville.

The Courier Journal reported the appointment of Walker, 38, to the coveted seat would likely ignite a fierce fight on Capitol Hill over the former University of Louisville law professor’s qualifications to serve on the nation’s second-most influential bench.

The American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary last year rated Walker “not qualified” for the District Court, saying that he had never tried a case, either civil or criminal, as lead or co-counsel.

But Walker was confirmed by the Senate 50-41, and McConnell praised the pick, saying in a statement that Walker is “an outstanding legal scholar” who represents a “new generation of federal judges.”

Walker was a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and to now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh when Kavanaugh sat on the D.C. Circuit bench. Walker was a vocal advocate for Kavanaugh when he faced accusations of sexual harassment allegedly committed when he was a young man.

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