Conservative leaders press senators to confirm Trump circuit court pick

EXCLUSIVE: A group of conservative leaders are sending a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of President Trump's nominee for the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, a tribunal widely viewed as a feeder bench for the Supreme Court.

The White House announced its pick of Justin Walker, who currently sits on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky, Friday morning.

Those signing the letter, which was organized by the Article III Project, an organization dedicated to supporting Trump judicial nominees, include Mike Davis, the founder and president of the Article III Project; Charlie Kirk, the president of Turning Point USA; Jessica Anderson, the president of Heritage Action, and Manny Iglesias, the national chair of the Republican National Lawyers Association.

There are 22 signatures on the letter in all.

TRUMP ANNOUNCES JUSTIN WALKER, FORMER KAVANAUGH CLERK, AS PICK FOR DC CIRCUIT COURT

"Walker’s everyday-American upbringing, impeccable credentials, dedication to principled judging, and reputation for collegiality is impressive," says the letter, which is addressed to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., and Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. "Judge Walker is a committed constitutionalist who understands a judge’s modest, but critical, role is to interpret the law as written -- not how that judge wishes it were written if he were a senator."

The letter also frames Walker as a red, white and blue American success story.

"He was born and raised in Louisville by his mother, who, like all of his grandparents, did not graduate from college," it says. "Yet Walker graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Duke and magna cum laude from Harvard Law, then went on to clerk for then-Judge Brett Kavanaugh on the D.C. Circuit [the court to which Walker is nominated] and Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court of the United States."

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Brett Kavanaugh, along with late Justice Antonin Scalia, all sat on the D.C. Circuit before being elevated to the Supreme Court.

The letter continues: "Judge Walker has always made time for people who need his help. Thirteen (13) of his former law-student research assistants wrote last year that '[m]ost of us belong to an historically disenfranchised gender or race, and it is no exaggeration to say that no professor did more than Justin to promote our careers.' He has taught writing skills to underprivileged high-school students in Louisville. And for six years, he served as the unpaid executive director of the Global Game Changers Student Empowerment Program, which teaches underserved elementary school children that no matter how young they are and no matter where they come from, they can make a difference in the world."

Liberal groups staunchly opposed his nomination last year to the Western District of Kentucky -- which ended in a strict party-line vote -- and have again come out forcefully against his confirmation to the D.C. Circuit.

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"Walker was rated Not Qualified [by the American Bar Association (ABA)]," Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights President and CEO Vanita Gupta tweeted Friday. "He had never tried a case. He's intensely opposed to the ACA. Another anti-health care nominee during a pandemic. It's SHAMEFUL."

Gupta continued on a Twitter thread: "Now Trump wants to reward this unqualified judge with a LIFETIME seat on the nation's second highest court ... Trump has made 50+ appellate nominations, but NONE are African American. Only one is Latinx. 11 are women. It's appalling."

Walker was confirmed to the Western District of Kentucky by a 50-41 vote in October 2019 after the American Bar Association (ABA) rated him "not qualified," citing a lack of experience. But the 37-year-old Walker's backers have accused the ABA of being biased against conservatives and tout his clerkships for Kavanaugh and Kennedy as two major factors weighing in Walker's favor.

Another part of Walker's work that is sure to please Trump backers is his commentary on career civil servants who lack accountability to elected officials -- what Trump Republicans often call the "deep state."

Walker in 2018 wrote on op-ed in The Wall Street Journal drawing parallels between the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI under former Director James Comey and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, arguing that the agency's independence should be limited.

"The FBI’s accomplishments have been historic and often heroic," Walker wrote at the time. "But today, when lawmakers and commentators demand an 'independent' FBI, Americans should remember the bureau’s history and the dangers of independence. The FBI must be accountable to the president, who is accountable at the ballot box."

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Walker also appeared on TV regularly during Kavanaugh's confirmation process to defend the besieged nominee.

Carrie Severino, the president of the Judicial Crisis Network, took note of that fact -- one that Gupta lamented -- in praising Walker's nomination.

"Judge Walker was an unrelenting defender of Justice Kavanaugh during the left's unprecedented smear campaign," she tweeted Friday. "I expect Walker to bring similar courage with him to the DC Circuit as he defends the rule of law."

Walker would replace the retiring Thomas Griffith, who is stepping down in September. Griffith is a George W. Bush appointee so this would not change the ideological balance of the D.C. Circuit, which has a majority of judges appointed by Democratic presidents.

Fox News' Bill Mears contributed to this report.