Wilson and Walker Are Conservative Extremists – and That’s Why Trump Chose Them

In July 2019, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Halil Ozerden’s nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Ozerden, a sitting federal judge in Mississippi appointed by George W. Bush, had the strong support of his Republican home-state senators Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith. But during the hearing, Senator Ted Cruz questioned Ozerden about a number of extremely conservative groups that said he was the wrong choice for the seat – because, according to them, Ozerden did not exhibit zealous loyalty to conservative political causes. Ozerden went out of his way to prove his fidelity to far-right conservativism, but Senators Cruz and Josh Hawley, led by these outside groups, were not satisfied. By late September, both Republicans had announced their opposition to Ozerden’s confirmation, and the White House never renominated him after his nomination expired at the end of 2019.

Instead, Trump announced last week that he would nominate Cory Wilson to that Fifth Circuit vacancy. Until last week, Wilson was a nominee to a district court seat in Mississippi and faced strong opposition from civil rights and health care advocacy organizations because of his disturbing record on issues like access to health care and reproductive freedom, voting rights, and LGBTQ equality.

And where Ozerden appeared to fall short for some Republicans – by not doing enough to demonstrate his allegiance to conservative causes – Wilson has shone. Wilson’s hard-wired ideological, right-wing mindset is on full display in his countless false and mean-spirited comments he has made about Secretary Hillary Clinton, President Barack Obama, the Democratic Party, and the media – including on his personal Twitter account. During Wilson’s hearing for the district court seat in January, Senator Mazie Hirono rightly questioned the appropriateness of these tweets and the maintenance of a public Twitter account. Senator Cruz, meanwhile, took time out of his questioning to applaud Wilson’s response to another senator’s question. It was clear that Wilson had Cruz’s enthusiastic approval.

Just four days after Trump announced that he would nominate Wilson to the Fifth Circuit, the White House sent out a press release with another intended appellate nomination – this time Justin Walker for the DC Circuit (often referred to as the second most important court in the country). The Senate had just confirmed Walker to his district court seat on a party line vote in October 2019 and he was sworn into that seat last month. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Justice Brett Kavanaugh – for whom Walker once clerked – attended the swearing-in ceremony. In fact, McConnell adjourned the Senate so he could be in Kentucky for the ceremony instead of working on an immediate legislative response to COVID-19.

As the world grapples with this pandemic, what binds Cory Wilson and Justin Walker together most clearly is their intense hostility to health care access. Wilson has authored a number of op-eds to repeatedly attack the Affordable Care Act as “freedom-infringing,” “perverse,” and “illegitimate.” Walker laid bare his own extreme views, including his strong opposition to the ACA, when he lauded Kavanaugh for providing a “roadmap” to overturn the ACA and called the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the law “catastrophic” – this coming from a nominee whose lack of relevant legal experience prompted the American Bar Association to rate him Not Qualified.

That Trump would reward individuals for attacking the Affordable Care Act is not surprising. Throughout the 2016 election, Trump promised that his judges would eviscerate access to health care. In June 2018, Trump’s Department of Justice filed a brief shockingly (at the time) arguing that the ACA’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions are unconstitutional. The first signature on the brief was from Chad Readler, who was then the acting head of DOJ’s Civil Division. Ten days after the brief was filed, Trump sent a list of nominations to the Senate – including Chad Readler for the Sixth Circuit.

Advocates (including us) are rightly pointing out the ludicrousness of choosing anti-health care judicial nominees during a pandemic – and we will not stop calling this out. But these selections must also be understood as more than a continuation of this administration’s attacks on health care. They are part of Trump’s dangerous remaking of the federal bench (and of the circuit courts in particular) with extreme, hyperpartisan judges who will serve for decades. Wilson has the op-eds, the Twitter account, and his record as a state legislator to back up his archconservative bonafides. Walker has the media clips from the 162 interviews (including 35 on Fox News alone) that he did to defend Kavanaugh throughout his Supreme Court nomination. From voting rights to reproductive health, these two circuit court nominees have signaled their assurance that they won’t “go wobbly.”

In normal times, these two nominees would not be taken seriously. These are not normal times. These men do not deserve lifetime seats on powerful federal appellate courts. Their extreme, right-wing views render them incapable of serving as neutral arbiters of the law. We just need a handful of Republican senators to show moral courage – to speak out, do what is right for the nation and for our courts, and refuse to confirm them.

TAKE ACTION: Call your senators (202-224-3121) and tell them to oppose Cory Wilson and Justin Walker.