Walker, Religious Liberty Ranger

April 15, 2020

The coronavirus has derailed a lot of things, but religious freedom isn't one of them -- thanks to judges who understand the Constitution.

One of those judges -- Judge Justin Walker -- was just nominated by President Trump to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals two weeks ago. But not one of them had any idea that the former clerk to Justice Brett Kavanaugh would go on to land one of the most newsworthy cases of the crisis. It was the luck of the draw that put Judge Walker smack dab in the middle of the controversy between Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and On Fire Christian Church, but the 37-year-old made the most of it, writing one of the most eloquent defenses of religious liberty that I've seen in quite some time.

On one side of the debate, On Fire Christian Church was trying to get creative with its Easter celebration. Like a lot of congregations around the country, they settled on a drive-in worship service that kept everyone at a healthy distance. When Mayor Fischer found out about it, though, he ordered the church to cancel. "It's not really practical or safe to accommodate drive-up services taking place in our community," he argued. The mayor's overreaction was so absurd that even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) got involved, firing off a letter reminding Fischer about a little thing called the First Amendment.

"These drive-in services that this particular minister had arranged were CDC-compliant..." McConnell explained on "Washington Watch" Tuesday. "They met the guidelines. No question about that. So the mayor clearly overreached. I wrote a letter telling him I thought he was wrong." When Fischer wouldn't back down, First Liberty Institute filed a restraining order. Thankfully, Judge Walker granted it in a 20-page ruling that schools the mayor on religious liberty from the pilgrims to modern-day nuns.

"It was an outstanding opinion," McConnell agreed, "and that shows you how brilliant he is. It also underscores the point you made [that] it's not just how many judges you appoint, but what're they like. And the Trump administration, in league with the Senate Republican majority, have put young men and women on the courts who believe in the quaint notion that maybe the job of a judge is to follow the law... So I thought Judge Walker... certainly underscored why he's going to make a great member of the D.C. Circuit Court."

And, as McConnell pointed out, the D.C. Circuit isn't your average appeals court. It's the second most important bench in the nation. "There are 11 circuits around the country," he said. But the "D.C. Circuit ends up having a lot of special jurisdiction, because a lot of administrative cases come first to the D.C. Circuit because of its location in the nation's capital." Every appeals court judge is important -- especially since they're the final stop for more than 95 percent of cases. That's why, the majority leader, explained, he's put a priority on filling circuit court vacancies -- because "they're the most important, and the quality is just as important as the quantity."

Fortunately, he hasn't had to sacrifice either. Over the past three and a half years, the Senate's been on a record-breaking pace, confirming a whopping 193 Supreme Court, appeals court, and federal judges (200, if you count the seats on federal claims and trade courts). "I'm really proud of what we've done," McConnell said. "These are lifetime appointments of young men and women who revere the Constitution, and Justin Walker is a perfect example of that, and the opinion handed down this weekend certainly underscores the importance of these kinds of men and women on the courts."

And, just as importantly, what's at stake this November. "I can tell you what the Democrats will do if they get [control] of the entire government," the majority leader warned. "They will try to undo what we've done over the last three years-plus by expanding the numbers of the Supreme Court, the circuit courts, the district courts, and filling them with people who are quite different from the ones that we've been installing... They've gone hard-Left on so many different issues. And religious freedom is an example of it."

Judges won't be on the ballot this fall -- but those who nominate them are. The keys to America's courts are in your hands. Make sure you know what kind of ideology they're going to open.