Bloomberg Law
July 31, 2019, 7:36 PM

Ex-Kavanaugh Clerk Scrutinized Over Experience for Judicial Post

Jake Holland
Jake Holland

A former clerk to now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who’s nominated for a district judgeship in Kentucky, fended off questions Wednesday about his lack of judicial experience.

Justin Walker told the Senate Judiciary Committee at his nomination hearing that his experience as a University of Louisville law professor and his private practice work qualifies him for a lifetime district court appointment.

“My experience exploring criminal procedure, evidence, civil procedure, constitutional law has prepared me to analyze the kind of complex legal questions that judges deal with, especially the majority of what they do, which is motion work,” Walker said.

He came under pressure from a top Democrat at the hearing after the American Bar Association said he wasn’t qualified to serve as a federal judge due to a lack of practical legal experience.

Paul Moxley of the ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary said in a July 30 letter to Judiciary Committee leaders that Walker might make a fine judge someday, but not now.

“The standing committee believes that Mr. Walker does not presently have the requisite trial or litigation experience or its equivalent,” Moxley said in explaining the “Not Qualified” rating.

“The judicial system, the public, the trial bar, and the nominee are not well served by appointing to the bench a lawyer who lacks adequate experience,” the letter said.

Democrats have raised the issue of judicial ratings for other Trump nominees as well as those lacking robust judicial experience. But their objections have not derailed the aggressive push by the president and the Republican-led Senate to push through a record number of his appointments to all levels of the judiciary in a bid to remake the courts with conservatives.

A Harvard Law graduate and a former Gibson Dunn & Crutcher associate, Walker clerked for Kavanaugh when he was on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and for former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.

At 37, Walker would be one of the youngest Donald Trump judicial appointees, if he’s confirmed to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky, a trial court. He’s also a member of the Federalist Society, a conservative group that has been instrumental in Trump judicial picks.

Although endorsed at the hearing by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as an “outstanding” and qualified nominee, Walker was questioned closely by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the judiciary panel.

She zeroed in on his lack of trial experience in criminal cases, or taking depositions. She commended him for his academic credentials and achievements, but said being a judge is “different work.”

Walker pointed Feinstein to letters from 200 litigators, former students, and others who vouched for his experience and temperament to be a judge.

Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham noted the ABA rating at the hearing, and said he “respects the ABA a lot” and listens to what it says. But he pondered “What’s enough experience?” before letting Walker testify.

ABA ratings are purportedly non-partisan, but conservatives have claimed in the Trump era, especially, that they’re biased against them. The standing committee is an independent arm of the membership association.

The committee also heard testimony from Lee Rudofsky, the senior director of Walmart’s anti-corruption compliance team, who’s nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

Rudofsky has also worked on the legal teams of several prominent Republican political campaigns, including Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential bid, and is a former Kirkland & Ellis associate.

R. Austin Huffaker, nominated to the Middle District of Alabama, also testified. He’s a shareholder at Rushton, Stakely, Johnston & Garrett, a law firm in Montgomery, Alabama. He has also served as commissioner for the Alabama Securities Commission since 2016.

—With John Crawley