McConnell spokesman slams group pushing allegations about appeals court nominee: ‘Bottom of the barrel’

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A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., slammed a group that is pushing claims about D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Justin Walker during the last stages of his confirmation process as engaging in a “bottom-of-the-barrel smear” against the judge, while the group calls on the Senate to pump the brakes on the nomination.

The condemnation comes as the group called Fix the Court, which observers on the right say is funded by a dark-money network that largely supports liberal causes, has raised last-second objections to Walker’s nomination after he was voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The accusations are essentially that the Senate has not adequately investigated an element of Walker’s finances and an alleged incident of poor “classroom etiquette” from when he was a professor.

“This is nothing but a late-breaking, bottom-of-the-barrel smear attempt against Judge Walker,” a spokesman for McConnell told Fox News. “All other attempts to defeat this well-qualified nominee have failed, and this is all they have now.”

Judge Justin Walker faces the Senate Judiciary Committee in a confirmation hearing.

Judge Justin Walker faces the Senate Judiciary Committee in a confirmation hearing.

WHO IS TRUMP’S DC CIRCUIT COURT NOMINEE JUSTIN WALKER?

The American Bar Association, which has taken criticism for not approving of many of Trump’s judicial nominees, did in fact rate Walker “Well Qualified” for a nomination to the D.C. Circuit.

Fix the Court, which says it is a “nonpartisan organization that advocates for non-ideological ‘fixes'” the court system, is funded by the New Venture Fund, a group that’s “managed under an administrative agreement with Arabella Advisors,” an organization that provides services and advice to left-leaning nonprofits.

Both allegations made by Fix the Court come from Walker’s time as a professor at the University of Louisville Louis D. Brandeis School of law.

The first alleges that there may be ethical problems with a loan Walker made to a married couple of former students, one who was previously an unpaid teaching assistant for Walker at UL Brandeis and another who is a law clerk at his current post as a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky. Fix the Court raises concerns about potential “power imbalances” stemming from a teaching assistant and law clerk owing money to a professor and judge.

But the loan has been paid back in full, according to Fix the Court, and UL Brandeis Dean Colin Crawford — who submitted a letter in support of Walker’s nomination — indicated to Fox News that the situation with Jake Grey, Walker’s teaching assistant, went through proper channels with the university.

“Mr. Grey, by prior agreement with Judge Walker and me, and in consultation with other, immediately affected faculty, helped Judge Walker conclude his classes in November 2019. Mr. Grey was not compensated for this,” Crawford told Fox News. “In Spring 2020, Mr. Grey assisted Judge Walker. For this position (as a “Lecturer Part Time”) Mr. Grey was compensated. The position had been publicly advertised per university procedures, in December 2019. There were three applicants, including Mr. Grey. The other two were from out of state.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., steps away from the microphone as he speak to reporters following the weekly Republican policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., steps away from the microphone as he speak to reporters following the weekly Republican policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

SENATE CONSIDERS CONTROVERSIAL TRUMP CIRCUIT COURT PICK IN SOCIALLY DISTANT HEARING

A source familiar with the Walker nomination pointed out that Walker had disclosed the loan in reports to the Senate Judiciary Committee twice — once ahead of his district court nomination and once for his current nomination to the D.C. Circuit.

The second allegation from Fix the Court cites “several campus sources” saying that students in a spring 2019 class of Walker’s “taunted” minorities with a “build the wall” chant, in reaction to which Walker joked and smiled. Fix the Court alleges the incident was not a “one-off.” Fox News asked Fix the Court to share the contact information of some of its anonymous sources, on the condition that Fox News would also keep the sources anonymous, but Fix the Court said none of the sources would agree.

In response to that allegation, Crawford told Fox News: “In the previous academic year [meaning academic year 2018-2019], a student came to me and described an incident of concern to the student during a class of Professor Walker’s. Because this involved a private student conversation that the student asked me to keep confidential, it would be inappropriate for me to say more.”

A different source close to the Walker nomination, however, told Fox News the Fix the Court allegation is incorrect.

“Absolutely did not happen,” the source said. “It’s baseless.”

MCCONNELL SAYS ‘PANDEMIC WILL NOT PREVENT’ CONFIRMATION OF JUDGES

Additionally, the Fix the Court allegation appears to be at odds with some of the endorsements of Walker’s nomination from fellow professors and students.

“Although he and I hail from different political affiliations, I believe he will be a non-partisan and objective appellate judge,” Manning G. Warren, a colleague of Walker’s at UL Brandeis, said in a letter to the Judiciary Committee in April. “I know this from our own personal interactions over the years and from discourse with our colleagues and our students. … He treats every member of our university community, from staff to faculty to students, with basic kindness. He definitely has the necessary judicial temperament.”

A May 5 letter signed by more than 100 of Walker’s former students strikes a similar tone.

“We write this letter to highlight Judge Walker’s character, compassion, commitment to diversity and equality, humility, open-mindedness, and ability to teach and inspire,” the students say. “Judge Walker has already proven that he is a great mentor to his students, as well as the clerks he has already been engaged with. This legacy will continue if he is appointed, where he’ll teach his clerks important lessons about openmindedness, inclusion, rigorous analysis, and legal writing that will forever endure.”

Gabe Roth, the founder and executive director of Fix the Court, told Fox News that his group is not going so far as to say Walker should not be confirmed, but that it wants the Senate to slow-walk the Walker nomination until it investigates its allegations further.

A socially-distanced Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing for Justin Walker. (Senate Judiciary Committee)

A socially-distanced Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing for Justin Walker. (Senate Judiciary Committee)

SENATE DEMS ATTACK TRUMP JUDICIAL NOMINEE OVER PAST COMMENTS ON OBAMACARE IN TENSE HEARING

“Fix the Court has never opposed a judicial nomination and never will so long as I’m running it,” he said. “What I take issue with here, as I have in the past, is a half-baked Senate vetting process, with Republicans conducting an abbreviated investigation and Democrats simply complaining that – surprise! – the nominee is conservative, as if they’ve uncovered some larger conspiracy.”

Roth added: “There’s an easy solution to this. With no vacancy on the D.C. Circuit until September, and amid an ongoing pandemic and an unprecedented movement for racial justice, Walker should gain more experience on the district court for now, the Senate should conduct a more thorough vetting to answer open questions about his finances and classroom etiquette, and we should revisit this in the fall.”

Walker is set to replace retiring D.C. Circuit Judge Thomas Griffith, who will remain at his post until September.

But Walker has already been voted out of committee and McConnell has filed cloture on his nomination. Walker will need to pass a cloture vote and a final vote on his confirmation — both of which just need simple majorities — and is likely to be confirmed before the end of next week. A source close to the nomination said the timeline for Walker’s confirmation will remain the same.

Mike Davis, the president and founder of the Article III Project, a group that is dedicated to boosting Trump judicial nominees, slammed Fix the Court.

“Fix the Court — which masquerades as a ‘nonpartisan’ and ‘non-ideological’ 501(c)(3) charity that claims to promote transparency in our federal courts — is really a leftwing political front for dark-money groups that hypocritically refuse to provide transparency and disclose donors,” he said.

The Article III project itself is a conservative dark-money organization. Roth defended his group.

“It’s not partisan to ask the Senate to vet judicial nominees thoroughly, especially when there’s no present D.C. Circuit vacancy and lawmakers are dealing with simultaneous once-in-a-generation crises,” he said. “Anyone who pays attention to Fix the Court knows we’re just as tough on Democratic-appointed judges and nominees as we are Republican-appointed judges and nominees. There’s a widely recognized lack of openness and accountability in the federal courts, and we’re the only group trying to fix it disinterestedly.”

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Walker, if confirmed, would join what is widely considered the second most powerful bench in the United States. That is because the D.C. Circuit regularly handles high-profile appeals related to the federal government bodies that reside within the nation’s capital, so its rulings have the potential to affect all Americans more than any court in the U.S. besides the Supreme Court.

Walker is a former clerk to Justice Brett Kavanaugh and was one of the most vocal defenders of the then-nominee during his confirmation process, which was also marked by eleventh-hour allegations — though Kavanaugh’s were much more sordid.

The judge from Kentucky is also an ally of McConnell’s and clerked for former Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose seat Kavanaugh took over when he was confirmed in late 2018.



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