Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) on Tuesday ridiculed President Biden’s nominee to serve as district judge for the Eastern District of Washington for flubbing basic questions about the Constitution last week, arguing Democrats have used a double standard for Biden’s and former President Trump’s nominees.
The nominee, Spokane County Superior Court Judge Charnelle Bjelkengren, couldn’t describe the purpose of Article V of the Constitution, which establishes the procedures for amending the nation’s founding document, or Article II, which establishes the powers of the president and executive branch.
“Goodness gracious,” McConnell exclaimed, noting that the presidential powers laid out in Article II, including the power to appoint judges to the Supreme Court, is something “high schoolers across America learn each year.”
McConnell recounted in detail Bjelkengren’s awkward and halting answers in response to the pop quiz she got from Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) at her confirmation hearing last week.
“Article V is not coming to mind at the moment was the response. Sen. Kennedy came back with another even more basic request, ‘How about Article II?’ …. But this sitting judge drew another blank. Article II wasn’t coming to mind either,” the leader said.
“Then she flunked yet another question about legal philosophy and then again she flunked still another question about the most controversial Supreme Court case this term,” he said. “Apparently, when this particular nominee had been asked to list the top 10 most impactful cases she’d ever litigated in court, she could only come up with six.”
“At no stage of her professional career has this judge focused on federal law. At no point has she ever even appeared in federal court,” he fumed.
McConnell then asked whether Biden has drastically lowered the standards for serving as a federal judge in his rush to stock the federal judiciary with nominees who are viewed as sympathetic to his political agenda.
And he excoriated Democrats for complaining about the qualifications of Trump’s judicial nominees, only to then turn around and give some of Biden’s nominees a free pass.
“Is this the caliber of legal expert with which President Biden is filling the federal bench?” he asked, referring to Bjelkengren. “For lifetime appointments? Is the bar for merit and excellence really set this low?”
The GOP leader pointed out that Democrats “howled” that Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, the Florida district judge who struck down the administration’s mask mandate for airplanes, trains and other public transportation, was unqualified when she was nominated to the federal bench by Trump in 2020.
“But with a Supreme Court clerkship under her belt, she had incomparably more experience in federal court than the nominee who failed Sen. Kennedy’s bar exam,” McConnell said, referring to Biden’s pick for the Eastern District of Washington.
He argued that Trump picked more academically qualified nominees than Biden has so far during his first term.
“Democrats were not particularly impressed or moved by the top-shelf professional excellence or the academic brilliance that the last Republican Administration’s nominees possessed in spades. And apparently they don’t count those qualities as particularly high priorities now that they’re the ones doing the nominating,” he said.