Justin Walker, President Donald Trump’s nominee for the federal bench in Louisville, is unqualified because of his lack of experience, the American Bar Association says.
The ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, which has evaluated federal judicial candidates since 1953, says Walker “does not presently have the requisite trial or litigation experience or its equivalent.”
Neither Walker nor U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, who recommended him for the appointment, immediately responded to requests for comment, but in a statement, McConnell said: "In the courtroom, Justin is known for immersive preparation, fervent advocacy for his clients, and all-around excellence in trial and appellate litigation."
McConnell's statement didn’t address the ABA’s finding, which is not binding on the Senate Judiciary Committee, before which Walker appeared Wednesday.
Bloomberg Law reported in December that six of Trump’s judicial nominees rated not qualified were confirmed in his first two years as president, more than any of his four most recent predecessors through the same point in the first term.
Carl Tobias, a law professor at University of Richmond who follows judicial nominations, said Senate Republicans and the White House "pretty much ignore" the ABA committee's findings.
Background: Trump nominates former Kavanaugh clerk for federal judge in Kentucky
Walker, 37, a conservative intellectual who clerked for Brett Kavanaugh when he sat on the U.S. District Court of Appeals and championed his controversial nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, was himself nominated in June for a seat on U.S. District Court in the Western District of Kentucky.
Walker has practiced at Dinsmore Shohl in Louisville since January and is co-director of University of Louisville’s new Ordered Liberty Program, which promotes "federalism, separation of powers, originalism, natural rights, and the common good.”
If Walker is confirmed, he would succeed Judge Joseph H. McKinley, who took senior status.
The chairman of the ABA committee said in a letter Tuesday that it has no questions about Walker’s temperament or integrity and that it believes he has great potential to serve as a federal judge.
But the panel said a nominee to the federal bench ordinarily should have at least 12 years’ experience in the practice of law.
It said in a letter to Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsay Graham, the ABA committee said that even crediting the time Walker spent in judicial clerkships, his practice experience is less than his 10 years since graduation from Harvard Law School.
The committee also said Walker has “a very substantial gap, namely the absence of any significant trial experience. Mr. Walker has never tried a case as lead or co-counsel, whether civil or criminal,” its letter said.
Read this: Lawyer cost 800 clients their disability checks, but they may get them back
It said his recent co-counsel experience in a criminal pro bono case tried in the Western District of Kentucky did not include the performance of any duties in the courtroom due to the court’s rules prohibiting the appointment of two attorneys to try the case.
Tobias said Walker did "very well" in his appearance Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee and "engaged much more with the senators in answering their questions than most Trump nominees."
Tobias said Walker also performed well in responding to senior Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s questions about his practice experience by “showing that he has engaged in work that closely resembles what many district court judges do today: move cases and resolve dispositive motions, rather than trying very many cases."
Tobias said the Senate Judiciary Committee likely will approve him after the Labor Day recess.
Introducing Walker to the panel Wednesday, McConnell said he had received more than a dozen letters, signed by more than 200 Kentuckians "who have known Justin as a teacher, a colleague, and a friend. These letters share a common theme: Justin is a thoroughly impressive nominee with all the necessary qualifications to succeed on the federal bench."
Andrew Wolfson: 502-582-7189; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @adwolfson. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: courier-journal.com/andreww.