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Trump nominates Duke graduate Justin Walker to important DC Court of Appeals

Justin Walker, Trinity ‘04, was nominated April 3 by President Donald Trump to the influential United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, despite receiving an “unqualified” rating by the American Bar Association for his current judge post.

The D.C. appeals court is viewed as “a steppingstone to the Supreme Court,” according to the New York Times. It settles many disputes over separation of powers and federal policy, including issues regarding the environment, labor and immigration.

Walker’s nomination comes during the coronavirus pandemic and follows a vacancy created by Judge Thomas Griffith, who announced that he plans to retire in September.

A Republican from Kentucky, Walker graduated summa cum laude from Duke in 2004 with a B.A. in political science. He went on to earn his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2009, graduating magna cum laude. 

He first became a judge in October 2019 after a 50-41 vote in the Senate confirmed him to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky. However, he received a “not qualified” rating from the American Bar Association last year due to his lack of courtroom experience, particularly because he has never been a counsel during trial.

Previously, he clerked for Supreme Court Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Anthony Kennedy. Walker actively supported and defended Kavanaugh, particularly as he faced allegations of sexual misconduct during his confirmation process in 2018. Walker has also served as a litigator at Dinsmore & Shohl, a national law firm in Ohio. He is an associate professor of law at the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law.

He has received praise from many conservatives, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who lauded him as “an outstanding legal scholar and a leading light in a new generation of federal judges.” McConnell initially encouraged Trump to promote Walker.

Holding strongly conservative views, Walker opposes the Affordable Care Act, affirmative action and bans on semiautomatic rifles, according to the New York Times.

Walker wrote a guest column in The Chronicle in 2002, titled “Worthless Democrats,” where he criticized Democratic politicians for not taking any strong stance regarding the Bush administration’s decision to preemptively invade Iraq.

Allegedly, Kavanaugh and Kennedy privately spoke to Trump and recommended Walker for the D.C. Circuit, the Washington Post reported. Walker would be the youngest judge on the D.C. appeals court since 1983, and the first not from the nation’s capital since 2005.  

Walker has been met with skepticism from Senate Democrats. In October, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY., commented on Walker’s nomination for the U.S. District Court judge while speaking on the Senate floor. He said that the only real reason for his nomination was “the Federalist Society and his far-right wing views on health care, civil rights and executive power.”

“Unfortunately, Walker is part of a well-established pattern of Republicans stacking the federal bench with manifestly unqualified judges,” Schumer said in his remarks.

Schumer also criticized Walker for having never tried a case or served as a co-counsel, adding that “it’s not clear how much of his ten years has even been spent practicing law.”

In March, McConnell and Kavanaugh flew to Louisville to attend the swearing-in of Walker to the federal district court.

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