Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats on Wednesday grilled Judge Justin Walker over how his actions could affect Americans' health care at a hearing on his nomination to the nation's premier federal appeals court.
President Trump selected Judge Walker, 37, to fill a vacancy on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeal about six months after the judge left academia to join a federal district court in Kentucky.
The committee Democrats quizzed Judge Walker on his views on health care and the coronavirus crisis, as well as on his experience or lack thereof.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the committee's top-ranking Democrat, said Americans could face "devastating" health and economic ramifications if Judge Walker acted to strike down Obamacare.
"Why in the middle of a pandemic should we support a nominee who would take away health care from millions of Americans including those with preexisting conditions?" Ms. Feinstein asked.
"Senator, the COVID-19 pandemic has put this country in an unimaginable crisis," Judge Walker answered. "I doubt there's anyone in this room who either hasn't been affected or doesn't know someone who's been affected either in terms of health or in terms of the economic impact and I know I certainly have friends in that category ..."
"That's your answer?" Ms. Feinstein interjected.
"No, I'm sorry, senator. I was going to add that it's not the role of a judge to opine on health care policy," Judge Walker replied.
Senate Republicans praised Judge Walker and touted his recent ruling in On Fire Christian Center v. Greg Fischer, where the judge blocked the mayor of Louisville, Kentucky, from shutting down Easter services over social distancing guidelines.
Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, introduced Judge Walker to the committee as having unwavering fidelity to the Constitution as demonstrated by the On Fire decision.
"I'm very pleased that President Trump reached outside the Beltway-to-New York bubble to elevate a judge who is committed to our Constitution and to be elevated now to the second most important court," Mr. Paul said at the hearing. "Judge Walker will be the first judge confirmed to the D.C. Circuit from outside the bubble since Thomas Griffith, the judge he is replacing, was confirmed 15 years ago."
Before Judge Walker's confirmation to a lower court last year, the American Bar Association ranked him "not qualified" because of his fewer than 12 years of experience practicing law. Ahead of Wednesday's hearing, however, the ABA graded him as "well qualified" for a position on the D.C. Circuit, which Judge Walker noted when asked about his experience.
Democrats had already organizing opposition to his confirmation before the hearing began. Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island joined Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York and leading progressive activists for a digital rally against Judge Walker immediately after the hearing ended.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has not yet scheduled a date to vote on the nomination. The hearing Wednesday was a "hybrid" hearing in which some senators used teleconferencing technology to participate and others were physically present in the hearing room.