When the U.S. Senate returns from a lengthy absence next week, one of its first orders of business will be advancing the nomination of a 38-year-old ally of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to the second highest court in the land.
According to two Democratic aides, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is expected to schedule a committee hearing for May 6 for Justin Walker, a federal judge in Kentucky whom President Trump has nominated to the influential D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
McConnell announced on Monday that the Senate would return to session on May 4 for its first full week of legislative business after the CARES Act passed in late March. And he has not been shy about his desire to start confirming judges as soon as his chamber is back in session.
“I haven’t seen anything that would discourage me from doing that. And as soon as we get back in session, we’ll start confirming judges again,” he told Hugh Hewitt in a recent interview.
McConnell’s office had no comment. Graham’s office did not return a request for comment.
Walker is a McConnell protégé who has close ties to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and played a high-profile role defending him during his contentious confirmation hearings. Walker moved up the ranks of conservative legal circles before landing a judgeship on the United States District Court of the Western District of Kentucky. There, his record has been distinguished by conservative jurisprudence and a flair for unorthodox rulings.
“On Holy Thursday, an American mayor criminalized the communal celebration of Easter,” Walker wrote in ruling against ordinances restricting attendance at religious services do to the coronavirus pandemic, “that sentence is one that this Court never expected to see outside the pages of a dystopian novel, or perhaps the pages of The Onion.”
Walker’s lack of experience and partisan background has earned him “not qualified” ratings from the American Bar Association and the opposition of Democrats, who see his nomination as a thinly veiled attempt to place young ideological allies in key judicial positions.
“If Graham/McConnell go forward with this, it would show that Senate Rs are rushing the Senate back to confirm an unqualified, anti-health care judge instead of responding to the pandemic and conducting oversight,” said a Senate Democratic aide.
McConnell and Kavanaugh attended Walker’s swearing-in on March 13 in Louisville. There, the majority leader and Walker, his former intern, praised each other effusively in public remarks.
In his Monday announcement on the May 4 return, McConnell said the Senate “must focus on concrete steps to strengthen our response to this complex crisis,” adding that lawmakers “cannot get distracted by pre-existing partisan wish-lists.”