Trump nominates McConnell ally to powerful appeals court

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President Donald Trump speaks before he signs the coronavirus stimulus relief package in the Oval Office at the White House, Friday, March 27, 2020, in Washington, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., listen. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is nominating a 37-year-old judge and former clerk to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh to a seat on the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Justin Walker of Kentucky has been on the federal bench less than six months and is one of the youngest federal judges in the country, with deep ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who hailed Trump’s nomination of “a rising Kentucky star, born and raised in Louisville, to refresh the second-most-important federal court in the country.”

Walker drew a “Not Qualified” rating from the American Bar Association when Trump nominated him last year to be a federal judge in Kentucky.

In a statement notable for its enthusiasm, McConnell called Walker “an outstanding legal scholar and a leading light in a new generation of federal judges,” adding: “I am proud that President Trump’s search took him outside the Beltway and into the Bluegrass.”

The Washington-based court is widely considered the nation’s second-most powerful after the Supreme Court.

Calling Walker “a brilliant and fair jurist,” McConnell said the nominee “understands the crucial but limited role that a judge must play in our constitutional order. The entire country will benefit from having this principled and fair-minded legal expert on this consequential bench.”

Liberal groups were far less impressed.

“The nomination of a Mitch McConnell crony, who has been rated unqualified by his peers, to the second highest court in the country is beyond suspicious,” said Christopher Kang, chief counsel for Demand Justice, a liberal activist group that has opposed most of Trump’s judicial nominees.

Kang called for an immediate investigation into whether McConnell “manufactured” the vacancy by pressuring Judge Thomas Griffith to retire.

Walker, a graduate of Duke University and Harvard Law School, was confirmed as a judge last year. He previously was a lawyer in Louisville and Washington and served as a law clerk to then-Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. He earlier clerked for Kavanaugh, then a judge of the same appeals court where Walker is being nominated to serve.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer slammed Walker’s qualifications last fall, as Walker faced Senate confirmation as a Kentucky-based federal judge.

“Mr. Walker is less than 10 years out of law school, has never tried a case, has never served as co-counsel, and it’s not clear how much of his 10 years has even been spent practicing law,” Schumer said Oct. 24 on the Senate floor.

Noting that Walker’s “Not Qualified” rating by the ABA, Schumer said it appeared “the only reason Mr. Walker has been nominated for an austere judgeship is his membership in the Federalist Society and his far-right wing views on health care, civil rights, and executive power.”

Despite those comments, Walker’s nomination was approved, 50—41.

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