Garrett Epps: Trump is at war with the whole idea of an independent judiciary
Walker likened Kavanaugh to Saint Paul, and his bruising confirmation battle to the apostle’s own trials and tribulations. “In Brett Kavanaugh’s America, we will not surrender while you wage war on our work, or our cause, or our hope, or our dream,” he said. While acknowledging Justice Kennedy, who couldn’t be there, Walker took a veiled jab at the Affordable Care Act, which is still the subject of legal challenges.
Near the end of his speech, the judge aimed his blows at those who had opposed his nomination—chief among them the American Bar Association, which gave him a rating of “not qualified” on the basis of his inexperience. (Later, when he was nominated to the District of Columbia Circuit, the association upgraded its rating.)
“Thank you for serving as an enduring reminder that although my legal principles are prevalent, they have not yet prevailed, and although we are winning, we have not won,” Walker told the crowd. “And that although we celebrate today, we cannot take for granted tomorrow, or we will lose our courts and our country to critics who call us terrifying and who describe us as deplorable.”
The partisan tone shocked some in the audience. One former student of Walker’s, who had long admired him, was upset to the point of tears. She has been granted anonymity because she is a recent law-school graduate and is concerned about professional repercussions. “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” she told me. “I was appalled.” She wasn’t the only one. “I didn’t know that person,” said another colleague, a law professor, who had held Walker in high regard for years. (This person was also granted anonymity because they feared career consequences.) “Either he really believes all this stuff, or he was saying stuff to get ahead.”
Nicholas Bagley: A warning from Michigan’s Republican Supreme Court
Ahead he got. Weeks after the ceremony, Trump nominated Walker to an even more powerful position: the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
In September, Walker became the youngest member of that court since the 1980s.
In the short time he served on the district court in Kentucky, Walker, who declined to comment for this story, issued highly polarizing opinions. He ruled against COVID-19 restrictions on religious services, using sermonizing, sectarian language; when considering a Louisville ordinance providing for public accommodation for LGBTQ people, he went where the Supreme Court hasn’t gone and said that a Christian wedding photographer’s work likely amounts to “speech” protected by the First Amendment.
Julian E. Zeiler: How conservatives won the battle over the courts
“His first few opinions … make it clear that he’s auditioning for a Supreme Court seat,” a law professor at Louisville, who said he was once a “defender of Justin” and who was granted anonymity because he feared professional consequences, told me in an email. On the D.C. Circuit, where Walker can expect to weigh in on controversies surrounding presidential power, the federal bureaucracy, and the constitutionality of statutes, he’ll get a long, high-profile audition.