The chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has started the process via which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) could face an ethics inquiry into actions he took regarding a federal judge who retired and in doing so opened up a spot on the D.C. appeals court that President Donald Trump nominated a top protege of McConnell’s to fill.
The New York Times reports:
“In an order dated May 1, Judge Sri Srinivasan asked Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. to assign another circuit to look into a complaint filed by the progressive advocacy group Demand Justice, which questioned the timing and circumstances of Judge Thomas B. Griffith’s retirement announcement in early March.”
All of this came about when, according to the Times there were suggestions that McConnell had actively contacted federal appeals court judges appointed by Republican presidents and encourage them to retire. When Judge Griffith agreed to retire, that allowed for President Trump to appoint the 37-year-old judge Justin Walker after being encouraged by McConnell.
The D.C. Court of Appeals is often seen as a potential stepping stone to an eventual nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.
On Wednesday, a confirmation hearing is scheduled to begin in the Senate Judiciary Committee for Judge Walker, who currently serves as a federal judge in McConnell’s home state of Kentucky.
In his order requesting the ethics hearing by another federal judicial circuit, Judge Srinivasan wrote:
“The organization’s request for an inquiry concerns the decision of a judge of this court to retire from service and the resulting creation of a vacancy on this court, which would be filled by a future colleague on this court.”
Walker is a controversial choice to serve on the appellate bench for the District of Columbia, which hears almost all cases involving matters involving the federal government.
David Popp, a spokesman for Senator McConnell, would only say, “Leader McConnell looks forward to watching Judge Walker’s confirmation hearing this week” when asked for comment from the senator’s office.
But Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said that questions of impropriety by McConnell should not go unexamined:
“The judiciary is right to take seriously allegations that sitting judges are gaming their retirements at the request of politicians. Mitch McConnell has been clear that his top priority is packing the courts with the judges his right-wing donors want, and that he’s actively pushing judges to retire. A judge would undermine the credibility of the bench by participating in that partisan gamesmanship.”
While a judicial review of the matter would have no jurisdiction over McConnell’s alleged actions, he could still face a hearing before the Senate Ethics Committee. Additionally, such an embarrassing revelation could also be politically damaging to the Senate leader, who is in a tough reelection battle with Democrat Amy McGrath.
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