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Progressive Group Slams McConnell For Pushing Through Judges During Coronavirus

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

“Mitch McConnell is blocking help for Americans hurt by the COVID-19 crisis while ramming through judges who could kick millions off their health care.”

Progressive advocacy group Demand Justice slammed Mitch McConnell’s efforts to fast-track Trump’s latest nominee to the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, Justin Reed Walker, a Kavanaugh protégé who was deemed “not qualified” by the American Bar Association and has repeatedly expressed opposition to expanding public healthcare. Demand Justice argued this week that McConnell is prioritizing his project to reshape the federal judiciary over efforts to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The country needs emergency relief now, not more extremist judges who will vote to overturn the Affordable Care Act and take away health care from millions when they need it most. American lives are at stake. McConnell needs to get back to work,” said Brian Fallon, the executive director of Demand Justice.

“Mr. Walker does not meet the minimum professional competence standard necessary to perform the responsibilities required by the high office of a federal district court judge,” the American Bar Association wrote in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee last July.

As the Nation’s Elie Mystal notes, the 38-year old Walker falls far short of the experience level generally required for the nation’s second most powerful circuit, a position widely considered an incubator for future Supreme Court justices:

“One of the reasons he garnered an “unqualified” rating is that as a lawyer in private practice, Walker never led a trial. He’s produced no legal scholarship of note,” wrote Mystal. “He has taken only one deposition during his whole legal career. There’s nothing that recommends him for this post, other than the fact that Mitch McConnell has known him since high school.”

The Trump administration has now appointed a total of 193 judges, empowering the judiciary to push American law to the right far after Trump leaves office. The New York Times reported last month that McConnell has been encouraging some Republican federal judges – potentially including Judge Thomas Griffith, who Walker is nominated to replace – to retire before the November election in order to make sure that their positions will be filled by younger conservative ideologues.

Mystal notes that Kavanaugh loyalists like Walker, who clerked for the Supreme Court justice and did up to 162 interviews defending the controversial nominee during his contentious confirmation hearing, have been rewarded for their service to the right wing’s judicial takeover.

“After a Yale Law School student spearheaded a letter in support of Kavanaugh from Yale Law students, that student got a job clerking for Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court. After a Yale Law School professor wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed praising Kavanaugh, that professor’s daughter also got a job clerking for Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court. The next generation of “elite” Republican legal scholars and judges are being chosen based on their fealty to Kavanaugh’s cause.”

Walker’s nomination is just one example of social connections and ideological loyalty trumping experience among the administration’s judicial picks. In November, the Senate confirmed Trump appointee Steven Menashi to a lifetime position on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit even though he had never tried a case before.

Menashi is a former partner at Kirkland Ellis, a law firm where attorney general William Barr and disgraced former Trump labor secretary Alex Acosta also worked. Before his nomination, Menashi worked as a Trump aide who helped craft Stephen Miller’s child immigrant separation policy and an illegal Education Department effort to deny debt relief to thousands of students defrauded by for-profit colleges.

Nearly all of Trump’s appointees are linked to the Koch-funded Federalist Society, fitting the same stark ideological mold as Menashi and Walker and often having little or no experience as judges. As Demand Justice’s Christopher Kang noted last year, many of Trump’s picks in August refused to endorse Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 Supreme Court decision that ruled school segregation as unconstitutional.

CNBC reports that dark money conservative groups are gearing up for an “all-out war in defense of Walker” as vehement opposition from progressives makes his coming confirmation hearing

“The D.C. Circuit is considered the second highest court in the land, and barring a Supreme Court vacancy, this will be the biggest judicial fight this year,” Mike Davis, founder of conservative group Article III, told CNBC.

 

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Peter Castagno

Peter Castagno is a staff writer and assistant editor at Citizen Truth.

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