Trump nominee to DC Circuit was rated 'not qualified' by ABA for trial court judgeship

  • Print

Judge Justin Walker

Judge Justin Walker. Photo from RepublicanLeader.Senate.gov.

President Donald Trump's new nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is U.S. District Judge Justin Walker, a short-time judge who received a "not qualified" rating for the trial court last year from the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary.

Walker is a former clerk for Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and for then-Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh of the D.C. Circuit, according to the White House announcement.

He is a Harvard Law School graduate and a part-time law professor at the University of Louisville. He is also a former partner at Dinsmore & Shohl.

Law.com and the Washington Post have coverage of the nomination.

Law.com lists Walker’s age as 38, while the Washington Post says he is 37. He was confirmed in October 2019 to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky.

A substantial majority of the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary rated Walker “not qualified” for the federal trial court last year, while a minority rated him “qualified.”

A July 2019 letter explaining the rating said the standing committee tought Walker lacked significant trial experience. Walker “has never tried a case as lead or co-counsel, whether civil or criminal,” said the letter by Paul Moxley, the standing committee chair.

The letter also said it was unclear how much time Walker spent in law practice in his 10 years since graduation from law school. “Even crediting the time spent in judicial clerkships, Mr. Walker’s practice experience is less than his 10 years since graduation and significantly less than the 12 years of legal practice experience stated in our criteria,” the letter said.

The letter added that there were no issues as to Walker’s temperament and integrity.

“Further, although Mr. Walker does not at this point have the requisite experience,” the letter said, “the standing committee believes Mr. Walker has great potential to serve as a federal judge.”

Experience is related to professional competence, one of three criteria evaluated by the standing committee. The others are integrity and judicial temperament, according to a backgrounder by the standing committee.

“Because an appellate judge deals primarily with the review of briefs and the records of lower courts,” the backgrounder says, “the committee places somewhat less emphasis on the importance of trial experience as a qualification for the appellate courts.”

A new ABA evaluation is expected to follow the normal timeline of 35 to 40 days, as long as there are no interruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has “actively promoted Walker behind the scenes,” according to the Washington Post.

“I think you cannot credibly argue that Justin Walker is not a judicial all-star,” McConnell told the Washington Post.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.