Group's request for probe into federal judge's retirement gets a boost

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Updated: The chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has taken a preliminary step that could lead to a review of the circumstances surrounding the retirement of one of the court’s judges.

Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan was reacting to a request by Demand Justice, an advocacy group, to investigate whether Judge Thomas Griffith was improperly pressured to retire to allow President Donald Trump to fill the seat, report the New York Times and the Louisville Courier Journal.

Srinivasan asked U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. to assign another circuit to review the request by Demand Justice. The May 1 order does not identify Griffith or Demand Justice by name.

Demand Justice sought the inquiry because of a New York Times story that reported that U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been contacting and encouraging GOP-appointed judges to retire or take senior status, if they are eligible to do so. McConnell is reportedly seeking to assure the judges that their vacancy will be filled by Trump.

Griffith said in a statement provided to NPR that he was not pressured to resign. “My decision was driven entirely by personal concerns and involved no discussions with the White House or the Senate,” he said.

Griffith said his wife had been diagnosed with a “debilitating chronic illness” 11 years ago, and he chose to retire because of her health. He informed family and law clerks about the decision in June 2019 but did not make a public announcement until this March.

The nominee to replace Griffith is U.S. District Judge Justin Walker, whom McConnell “actively promoted” behind the scenes, according to a prior report by the Washington Post. Walker was confirmed to a federal judgeship in Louisville, Kentucky, in October 2019.

Srinivasan said he sought the referral without any inquiry into Demand Justice’s unverified statements.

Walker’s confirmation hearing is scheduled to begin Wednesday. Demand Justice has sought a delay, but a McConnell spokesman told the Courier Journal and the New York Times that he looked forward to the hearing that will be this week.

Updated May 6 at 8:43 a.m. to add Griffith’s statement.

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