Justin Walker – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky

The 2018 confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh left its scars upon the nation, as acknowledged by the Justice’s supporters and detractors.  During the battle, one of Kavanaugh’s top surrogates in the media was a former clerk and law professor named Justin Walker.  Now, Walker has been tapped for the federal bench in Kentucky.  

Background

A native of the Bluegrass state, Justin Reed Walker was born in 1982 in Louisville.  He attended Duke University and Harvard Law School, getting his J.D. in 2009.[1]  After, Walker worked as a summer associate at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP in Washington D.C.  He was hired by the firm as an Associate upon graduation.[2]  Walker left the firm on hiatus to clerk for Justice Brett Kavanaugh (when he was on the D.C. Circuit) and then for Justice Anthony Kennedy.[3]

In 2013, Walker returned to Louisville to practice law on his own.  He left in 2019 to join Dinsmore & Scholl LLP as a Partner of Counsel.  Additionally, since 2015, Walker has been a Professor with the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law.

History of the Seat

Walker has been nominated for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky.  This seat opened on June 9, 2019, when Judge Joseph McKinley moves to senior status.  In June 2018, Walker expressed his interest in a judgeship with of Sen. McConnell.[4]  In March 2019, Walker began the vetting process with the White House and was nominated in June 2019.

Legal Experience

Unusually for a federal nominee, Walker’s limited litigation experience almost entirely consists of practicing on his own.  His stints at firms are limited to a short time as an Associate at Gibson Dunn (where he represented Philip Morris in a RICO action with the federal government)[5] and his current position at Dinsmore & Scholl LLP.

Most of his time as a solo practitioner, Walker was a full time law professor.  As such, by his own account, Walker has not tried a single case as primary counsel.[6]  Additionally, he has served as associate counsel in only a single criminal case.[7] 

Writings

As a law professor, Walker has been fairly vocal on legal and policy issues.  In fact, Walker was an active writer even as a college student, where he commented on national politics.

Kavanaugh Confirmation

During the campaign to confirm Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, Walker was one of his former boss’ most prominent surrogates on tv and in the media.  In some of his appearances, Walker argued that Kavanaugh would comply with judicial precedents such as Roe v. Wade.[8]  In others, Walker argued that Kavanaugh was a solid conservative whose vote on important issues was beyond question.[9]  Furthermore, after the allegations by Dr. Blasey Ford were released, Walker questioned the process around the disclosure of the allegations and the credibility of the allegations themselves.[10]

FBI Independence

In July 2018, Walker authored an article criticizing calls for independence in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), arguing that similar to the military, civilian control of the FBI was necessary to prevent civil liberties violations.[11]  In the article, Walker chronicles the history of civilian control of the military as well as abuses committed by the FBI, noting that the agency engaged in “illegal and warrantless wiretaps, buggings, burglaries, destruction of files, and harassment of political minorities, the gay community, and African Americans.”[12]  In conclusion Walker argues: “…the FBI Director should not think of himself as the Nation’s Protector; instead, he must think of himself as an agent of the President.”[13] 

Political Reporting

Notably, as a college student, Walker spent two months crossing the country trailing Democratic presidential candidates during the 2004 election and writing missives from his experiences.[14]  In his posts, Walker discusses the state of the race, the relative merits of the candidates he covers, and his views on their ultimate match-up against President Bush.  For example, in one post, Walker describes an incident in which Rep. Dennis Kucinich visited a homeless man sleeping in a garage.[15]  In another, he suggests that Howard Dean “sabotaged his own campaign with a loose temper and a glib mouth.”[16] 

Interestingly, some of his posts display a broader critique of the Democratic Party.  For example, in one post describing the liberal town of Yellow Springs, Ohio, Walker calls it “a haven for hippies who never grew upm”[17]  noting that “every person is unusual” in the town.[18]  At the same time, Walker criticizes the town for lacking “what liberals celebrate: tolerance, diversity, and change.”[19]

Similarly, in a 2002 article provocatively titled “Worthless Democrats”, Walker excoriates the party for not taking a position on the upcoming Iraq War, stating:

“[Democrats] are weak leaders who speak softly and carry a rubber stamp.  They neither agree with the president, nor oppose him.”[20]

Overall Assessment

Walker has accomplished much in his thirty-seven years.  Given his obvious intellect, youth, and conservative bona fides, there’s little doubt why Republicans are working to advance him onto the bench.  However, Walker faces a couple of obstacles to confirmation.

First, Walker has been nominated for a trial court position.  A federal trial court judge is primarily focused on case management, sentencing, and motions practice, all areas where Walker, by his own acknowledgement, has little experience.  Not only does Walker fall short of the American Bar Association’s recommendation of 12 years of practice, he has only tried a single case (and that too as associate counsel).  Furthermore, he has handled only one expert deposition and has primarily served as a full time professor.  As such, Walker’s legal ability, while impressive, seems ill equipped for a trial level position.

Second, Walker’s candidacy may relitigate some of the most contentious portions of the Kavanaugh confirmation.  With Kavanaugh insulated by lifetime tenure, his opponents may choose to question Walker on the bases of his defense of the nominee and his dismissal of Dr. Ford’s narrative.  

Ultimately, Walker is still favored for confirmation (he has, after all, Mitch McConnell in his corner).  But, one should not discount the chance that some Republicans may find voting for him a bridge too far.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Justin Walker: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] See id. at 2.

[3] Id.

[4] Id. at 49-50.

[5] See United States v. Philip Morris USA Inc., 561 U.S. 1025 (2010).

[6] See Walker, supra n. 1 at 32-33.

[7] Id. See also United States v. Todd, 3:17-cr-77 (W.D. Ky.).

[8] See, e.g., Fox News @ Night, July 17, 2018, Fox News Network.

[9] See Ryan Lovelace, Ex-Clerk to Kavanaugh: Potential Pick “Would Not Go Wobbly” on Conservatives, Nat’l Law Journal, June 29, 2018, https://www.law.com/nationallawjournal/2018/06/29/ex-clerk-to-kavanaugh-potential-pick-would-not-go-wobbly-on-conservatives/.  

[10] Evening Edit, Sept. 28, 2018.

[11] See Justin Walker, FBI Independence as a Threat to Civil Liberties: An Analogy to Civilian Control of the Military, 86 Geo. Wash. L. Rev. 1012 (July 2018).

[12] See id. at 1041.

[13] Id. at 1070.

[15] Justin Walker, Compassion for a Homeless Man, Justin Walker’s Campaign Diary, Jan. 10, 2004, https://today.duke.edu/showcase/mmedia/features/campaigndiary/campaign_compassion.html.  

[16] Justin Walker, Who Sabotaged Howard Dean’s Campaign, Feb. 4, 2004, https://today.duke.edu/showcase/mmedia/features/campaigndiary/campaign_deancamp.html.  

[17] Justin Walker, Closed-Minded Liberals, Feb. 18, 2004, https://today.duke.edu/showcase/mmedia/features/campaigndiary/campaign_yellowsprings.html.  

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Justin Walker, Worthless Democrats, The Duke Chronicle, Sept. 26, 2002, https://issuu.com/dukechronicleprintarchives/docs/the_chronicle_2002-09-26_sm.  

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