Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

Who is Judge Justin Walker?

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Judge Justin Walker is President Trump’s nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Walker is currently a federal district judge in the Western District of Kentucky. President Trump also nominated Walker to his current post, and he was confirmed by the Senate in October 2019.

If confirmed to the D.C. Circuit, Walker would follow in the footsteps of other judges nominated to the prestigious court from outside Washington, D.C., including David Sentelle from North Carolina (appointed by president Ronald Reagan), Karen Henderson from North Carolina (appointed by president George H.W. Bush), and Janice Rogers Brown from California (appointed by president George W. Bush).

Walker was raised in Louisville, Kentucky by his single mother who owned and ran a stationery store. Neither Walker’s mother nor his grandparents attended college. Growing up, Walker attended Catholic school for 13 years, graduating from Louisville St. Xavier High School. He went on to attend Duke University, where he majored in political science and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, graduating summa cum laude. Walker similarly excelled at Harvard Law School, where he earned magna cum laude honors and served as the notes editor of the Harvard Law Review. Walker was also a member of the editorial board for the Journal of Law & Public Policy, a leading journal for conservative and libertarian scholarship. He also served on the executive board of the Harvard chapter of The Federalist Society.

After law school, Walker clerked for Judge Brett Kavanaugh on the D.C. Circuit (2010-2011) and Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court (2011-2012). Both before and after his clerkships, Walker worked as an associate at Gibson Dunn LLP in Washington, D.C. His practice focused on complex commercial litigation and appeals, and Walker assisted in the drafting of five briefs in cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 2013, Walker moved home to Kentucky, where he maintained a solo law practice before joining the faculty of the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law in 2015. At Brandeis Law School, Walker focused his research on separation of powers issues, federal courts, administrative law, and national-security law. Walker was a co-founder of the Ordered Liberty Program at Brandeis Law School — a fellowship devoted to the study of “federalism, separation of powers, originalism, natural rights, and the common good.”

Walker’s scholarship has been published in academic journals such as the George Washington Law Review, the University of Cincinnati Law Review, and the West Virginia Law Review. In 2018, in the wake of the firing of James Comey, Walker argued against making the FBI an independent agency because such unchecked power could pose a threat to civil liberties. Walker’s most recent academic article examines the problems with the administrative state from an originalist perspective, particularly with respect to the lack of democratic accountability.

Walker was a staunch supporter of Brett Kavanaugh during his nomination to the Supreme Court. Walker wrote in National Review that Kavanaugh was a “a steadfast and fearless supporter of religious liberty.” Likewise, in The Federalist, Walker described Kavanaugh as having “the strongest, most consistent, most fearless record of constitutional conservatism of any federal court of appeals judge in the country.”

Before he became a district court judge, Walker served for six years as the volunteer executive director and legal counsel for the Global Game Changers Student Empowerment Program, a non-profit for underserved elementary school children. Walker also supervised a program that taught writing skills to underserved high school juniors at a public high school in Louisville.

In 2011, Walker was named to Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list for law and public policy. He has also been an active member of the Federalist Society, serving on the executive board of the Louisville chapter before his confirmation to the district court.

Judge Walker is married and has a daughter.

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