Federal Judge Requests Probe Into Whether McConnell Pressured Judge to Retire

May 6, 2020 Updated: May 6, 2020

A federal judge is calling for a probe to look into whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pressured Judge Thomas Griffith to leave the bench, so he could create a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit for Judge Justin Walker, one of the youngest federal judges in the country.

In an order (pdf) dated May 1, Judge Sri Srinivasan urged Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to launch an investigation into the complaint (pdf) from progressive judicial watchdog group Demand Justice, which alleges that the Washington, D.C. judge, 65, “was improperly pressured to retire from the bench” and challenges “whether his decision was made as a result of inappropriate incentives.”

In a statement, Demand Justice requested that Walker’s confirmation hearing, which is scheduled for Wednesday, not go forward “until we know the truth about what ethical lines Mitch McConnell crossed to get Walker this seat.”

“McConnell should come clean about whether and when he contacted Judge Thomas Griffith prior to his sudden retirement,” the group said.

Senate Holds Confirmation Hearing For Srikanth Srinivasan For U.S. Circuit Judge
Sri Srinivasan testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on April 10, 2013. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Srinivasan on Friday called for Roberts to transfer the case to a different circuit to, stating that there could be a conflict of interest if the D.C. Circuit Court were to investigate the complaint.

The confirmation of President Donald Trump’s nominee on the federal bench last October was met with criticism after Walker at the time drew a “Not Qualified” rating from the American Bar Association (ABA). Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) slammed Walker’s qualifications last fall, as Walker faced Senate confirmation as a Kentucky-based federal judge.

“The rumor is he wants to put a judge on the calendar whose claim to fame seems to be that he worked for [McConnell] as a staffer. … The ABA rated him unqualified,” Schumer told “Morning Joe” in an interview Monday.

However, on Tuesday the ABA gave the 38-year-old a “Well Qualified” rating.

“Based on interviews and a review of his scholarship and other writings, the Standing Committee believes that Judge Walker possesses a keen intellect, and his writing ability is exemplary,” William C. Hubbard, who chairs the ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, wrote in a letter. “Additionally, since our last rating, Judge Walker has served as a federal trial judge.”

“The Standing Committee concluded that Judge Walker’s varied accomplishments as a law clerk, law professor, and now as a district judge offset concerns about his years of practicing law,” Hubbard added.

Walker, a graduate of Duke University and Harvard Law School, was confirmed as a judge last year. He previously was a lawyer in Louisville and Washington and served as a law clerk to then-Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. He earlier clerked for Brett Kavanaugh, then a judge of the same appeals court where Walker is being nominated to serve.

“This well-qualified rating from the liberal ABA shows that those opposing Justin Walker are either a far-left ideologues or obstructionists looking to block qualified nominees who will fairly apply the law,” Judicial Crisis Network President Carrie Severino tweeted in response to the news.

Pushing back against the allegations that he was pressured to retire last year, Griffith told NPR in a statement Tuesday that he decided to leave the bench last June solely because of his wife’s health, and that he informed family and law clerks privately at the time.

“My decision was driven entirely by personal concerns and involved no discussions with the White House or the Senate,” he said, adding that his wife was diagnosed with a “debilitating chronic illness” 11 years ago.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.