Bloomberg Law
June 4, 2020, 5:33 PMUpdated: June 4, 2020, 7:39 PM

Justin Walker’s Nomination to D.C. Cir. Goes to Full Senate (1)

Madison Alder
Madison Alder

President Donald Trump’s latest nominee to the court often referred to as the second highest in the land advanced to the full Senate.

The Republican-led Judiciary Committee voted along party lines on Thursday to clear Judge Justin Walker‘s selection to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Walker was successfully confirmed to his U.S. district court seat in Kentucky in October, and he is expected to be approved again with little or no Democratic support.

Walker, 38, is a protege of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a fellow Kentuckian, and a former law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh when he was on the D.C. Circuit. He also clerked for former Justice Anthony Kennedy.

The Judiciary Committee also on Thursday deferred consideration of Fifth Circuit pick Cory Wilson, which is customary for nominees the first time they’re slated for a vote.

Democratic Opposition

Committee Democrats renewed their earlier opposition to Walker, citing his relationship with McConnell and past comments critical of the Affordable Care Act.

At his May confirmation hearing, Democrats drew a connection between Walker’s comments on the health law and what they said was a need for a strong health care system amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Justin Walker is in line for this lifetime appointment on the second-highest court in the land for two reasons. He’s a family friend of Senator McConnell’s and he’s an outspoken critic of the Affordable Care Act,” Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said on Thursday.

Republicans all voted for Walker, but were otherwise quiet after jumping to his defense at his confirmation hearing. They called the former private attorney and law professor qualified to serve on the appellate court.

“You’ve been accused of everything except hating golden retrievers,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said during Walker’s hearing in May. The subtext of all of those comments, Kennedy said, is that Walker isn’t qualified.

Federal appeals courts are one rung below the Supreme Court, and the D.C. Circuit is often considered the next most powerful because of its heavy concentration of federal government-related cases.

Walker would be Trump’s third appointee to the D.C. Circuit, filling a seat that will become vacant when Judge Thomas B. Griffith retires in September.

In a rare about-face before his circuit court confirmation hearing, the American Bar Association rated Walker “Well Qualified” for a seat on the appeals court. It had rated him “Not Qualified” for his Louisville federal trial court seat due to his lack of requisite experience.

ABA ratings have been a sore spot for the Judiciary Committee. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have questioned their fairness.

Other Confirmations

Walker’s advancement follows two confirmations this week to trial courts in Texas and Florida. Those elevations raised Trump’s total district and appeals court appointments to 194, in addition to two Supreme Court justices.

The Senate on Monday approved state trial court judge John L. Badalamenti, 55-22, to the Middle District of Florida, which includes Orlando, Tampa, and Jacksonville. Badalamenti was previously a federal public defender.

Attorney Drew B. Tipton was confirmed, 52-41, on Wednesday to the Southern District of Texas.

That seat on the court covering Houston and Galveston was the last remaining federal vacancy in Texas and it also was considered a judicial emergency. Judicial emergency is a term given to vacancies that increase the workload for the remaining judges. Tipton is a labor and employment lawyer at BakerHostetler in Houston.

(Updated with information about the confirmations of Badalamenti and Tipton.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Madison Alder in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tom P. Taylor at; John Crawley at; Andrew Harris at