Trump judicial pick hearing turns into fight over Senate’s agenda

President Donald Trump’s nominee to the second most powerful court in the country, Justin Walker, vowed to be an impartial judge during a Wednesday hearing that became a proxy battle between Republicans and Democrats over the Senate’s agenda.

Senate Democrats again accused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of bringing back the Senate merely to confirm the 37-year-old Walker, one of his proteges. And they criticized the Senate Judiciary Committee for holding its first hearing since going on an extended recess during the pandemic on a judicial nomination instead of anything related to the coronavirus.

Senate Republicans retorted that it’s the Senate’s responsibility to be in Washington and to confirm nominees.

“You’ve got first responders, firefighters, police officers, doctors, nurses other health care professionals, people who run pharmacies and grocery stores and drive trucks who’ve been working 24 hours a day,” said Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). “And you’ve got lawmakers who have been absent in recess for about six weeks.”

“This is not about an issue of coming to work,” said an emotional Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.). “This isn’t about partisanship, this is about leadership. And at a time where there’s real fear in this country … we’re having a hearing for a vacancy that’s not even up until September.”

The back-and-forth came as the Judiciary Committee also took specific precautions to reduce coronavirus exposure, including holding the more than two-hour hearing in a larger room and letting senators video conference in.

Walker’s confirmation to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. is a top priority for McConnell, who offered his introductory remarks for Walker on the Senate floor Wednesday, highlighting the nominee’s clerkships with retired Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and Justice Brett Kavanaugh when Kavanaugh was on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“I am confident our colleagues on the committee will find this nominee possesses a generational legal mind, a kind heart and total judicial impartiality,” McConnell said of Walker, who currently serves as a federal judge for the Western District of Kentucky. “President Trump made an outstanding choice when he asked this Kentuckian to take his public service to the next level. I am confident Judge Walker will not disappoint.”

But Senate Democrats were far less enthusiastic.

During his confirmation hearing, Democrats hammered Walker over his views on the Affordable Care Act, citing a 2018 op-ed he penned for The Federalist that described the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the law as “indefensible.” They argued that Walker’s views on Obamacare were of particular importance given the need for health care access during the coronavirus crisis.

“Now we’re in the midst of a pandemic, where the question is being asked by everyone, can I protect myself?” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). “And here you come before us asking for a lifetime appointment to the second highest court in the land having mocked the law that basically provides an attempt to extend health insurance to more Americans.”

But Walker defended the op-ed, highlighting that he wrote it as an academic before he was nominated to the district court. He emphasized the Supreme Court’s decision is “binding” upon him.

“I understand my role now is different than my role then. … I did as an academic criticize the legal reasoning in the majority opinion in NFIB v. Sebelius, but that was not a commentary on the merits of any particular health care policy, rather it was a legal analysis about constitutionality,” he said, referring to the Supreme Court decision that upheld Obamacare.

Democrats also criticized Walker for an opinion he wrote that rolled back a decision by the Mayor of Louisville to prohibit drive-in church services on Easter Sunday. In his opinion, Walker said the mayor “criminalized the communal celebration of Easter,” adding “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.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) pressed him on the language of the opinion, saying it included “overblown rhetoric,” but Walker said he was merely invoking the “free exercise clause.” Republicans, including McConnell, meanwhile praised him for defending religious freedom.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *