Justin Walker is a 30something Federalist Society Nexus 6 model who Donald Trump just nominated for a seat on the country’s second-most important court. Walker’s professional experience consists of speechwriting for Don Rumsfeld, clerking for Brett Kavanaugh and Anthony Kennedy, making 162 media appearances for Kavanaugh when good ‘ol Brett was being inserted onto the Supreme Court, dabbling for a few months in the practice of law, and teaching legal writing at the University of Louisville Law School.
This past October Walker, a Mitch McConnell protege, was handed a federal district court judgeship despite a rare “Not Qualified” rating from the American Bar Association (Every Senate Democrat who voted voted against the nomination, while every Republican voted in favor of making somebody who had basically never practiced law a federal trial court judge).
With his nomination to the DC Circuit (this is the SCOTUS’s Triple A team), Walker is on the verge of very big things indeed. So he took the opportunity on Saturday to issue his first significant ruling as a judge: a hysterical diatribe, protecting the Christian religion from the persecutions visited on it by Louisville mayor Greg Fischer:
On Holy Thursday, an American mayor criminalized the communal celebration of Easter. That sentence is one that this Court never expected to see outside the pages of a dystopian novel, or perhaps the pages of The Onion. But two days ago, citing the need for social distancing during the current pandemic, Louisville’s Mayor Greg Fischer ordered Christians not to attend Sunday services, even if they remained in their cars to worship – and even though it’s Easter.
The Mayor’s decision is stunning.
And it is, “beyond all reason,” unconstitutional.
This is then followed by a bunch of overwrought and utterly gratuitous rhetoric about how Christian folk have been persecuted for their faith throughout the ages, with the latest installment in this martyrology being Louisville’s decision to ban drive-in religious services on Easter (italics Judge Walker’s).
The only — well not the only, but one big — problem with all this is that none of it was true. Walker granted a temporary restraining order to the On Fire Christian Center, allowing it to hold a drive-in service, even though the city of Louisville had no intention of actually banning such a service. Walker could have discovered this if he had held a five-minute phone conference with Mayor Fischer’s office before issuing his extraordinary ex parte order. Nevertheless he issued it, oh so judiciously, without giving the the opposing party in the litigation any opportunity to be heard. Indeed no emergency hearing was even necessary, as before Walker promulgated his bull Fischer had already made clear that this lawsuit was based on a misinterpretation of the city’s intentions:
Fischer’s spokesman clarified that police would merely be “discouraging organizers from proceeding,” noting: “This is not a law enforcement matter, it’s a community matter.” And on Friday, Fischer reiterated this point, stating that the police would merely be “handing out information detailing the health risks involved” to worshippers who congregate, and taking down license plate numbers to expedite contact tracing if any worshippers get infected.
This didn’t stop Walker from indulging in his little exercise in theocratic virtue signaling however. (He even tossed in a bizarre reference to Robert Byrd having once been a member of the KKK: “just over three decades ago, another ex-Klansman was the Majority Leader of the United States Senate.” Under the circumstances I’m surprised there wasn’t anything in there about transgender bathrooms or The Persecution of the Tea Party by the IRS).
All of this is obviously a heavy-handed audition for yet another promotion, and I look forward to hearing in the not-too-distant future from various Even the Liberal law professors about his carpooling skills etc.
But more seriously, it’s still easy to underestimate the extent to which the GOP has been taken over by right wing religious zealots, of both the white evangelical Protestant and classic fascist-adjacent reactionary Catholic types. The Rise of Judge Walker is just the latest installment in this all-too-successful franchise.