Mitch McConnell is facing an investigation after watchdog groups raised concerns that he may have forced a federal appeals court judge to retire so the Senate majority leader’s protégé could be appointed to the vacancy.
The progressive judicial watchdog group Demand Justice has requested a postponement of the nomination of Judge Justin Walker of Louisville, Kentucky to a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. As the Louisville Courier Journal reported, the court’s chief judge has requested an investigation into the role McConnell may have played in creating the vacancy, with allegations that he lobbied for the judge to retire so President Donald Trump could name a replacement.
On Friday, Judge Sri Srinivasan, the chief justice of the court where Walker is nominated, issued a public order asking U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts to transfer the investigation to another circuit, The Hill reported.
Demand Justice has called on McConnell to answer whether he contacted Judge Thomas Griffith before his sudden retirement. The 65-year-old Griffith would be replaced by the 38-year-old Walker, who has close ties to McConnell and served as a staffer for the Kentucky senator.
Walker’s nomination has faced scrutiny, with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer saying during a Monday interview on Morning Joe that Walker is not considered to be qualified for the position.
“The rumor is he wants to put a judge on the calendar whose claim to fame seems to be that he worked for [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)] as a staffer…. The ABA [American Bar Association] rated him unqualified,” Schumer said, via The Hill.
In a statement published by the Courier Journal, Demand Justice stated that Walker’s appointment should wait until an investigation is completed.
“Justin Walker’s nomination was already controversial, but this emerging investigation means an even darker cloud is hanging over his appointment,” the statement read. “The hearing on Walker’s nomination should not go forward until we know the truth about what ethical lines Mitch McConnell crossed to get Walker this seat.”
McConnell has frequently pointed to the high number of judicial appointments as a major accomplishment of Trump’s time in office. The Senate majority leader had sparked controversy for blocking a large number of President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees, creating an unusually high number of vacancies that he has moved quickly to fill since Trump took office. That included a Supreme Court vacancy created with the death of Antonin Scalia in early 2016, which McConnell said he would not allow to be filled during an election year.