Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) repeatedly stumped President Biden’s judicial nominee who struggled to answer the most basic questions about the Constitution during her Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday.
Spokane County Superior Court Judge Charnelle Bjelkengren, who was nominated to be a U.S. district judge for the Eastern District of Washington revealed her cluelessness to answer the most basic questions surrounding the law and the Constitution when Kennedy pressed her about the purpose of the Articles of the nation’s founding document — questions that majority of judges should be an expert on when it comes to law.
“Judge, tell me what Article V of the Constitution does,” Kennedy asked Bjelkengren as he began his 5-minute round of questioning.
“Article V is not coming to mind at the moment,” Bjelkengren responded.
“Okay. How about Article II?” Kennedy followed up.
To which Bjelkengren replied, “Neither is Article II.”
Article II of the Constitution details the qualifications, duties, and executive powers vested in the President of the United States while Article V outlines the process for amending the Consitution. A federal judge sees a majority of the cases involving Article II and the powers vested within the executive branch.
After stumping Bjelkengren on the Articles of the Constitution, Kennedy then grilled the Judge on whether she knew about “purposivism.” According to Legal Theory Blog, purposivism, or the purposive approach, refers to the approach “to statutory interpretation that maintains that the legal effect of a statute should be determined by the objective purpose of the statute.”
The question was lost on Bjelkengren, who retorted to answer the third question by explaining her qualifications as an assistant attorney general and her last nine years as a judge.
“In my 12 years as an assistant attorney general, in my nine years as a judge, I was not faced with that precise question,” Bjelkengren said. “We are the highest trial court in Washington state, so I’m frequently faced with issues that I’m not familiar with, and I thoroughly review the law, I research, and apply the law to the facts presented to me.”
“Well, you’re going to be faced with it if you’re confirmed,” Kennedy said in reaction to Bjelkengren’s inability to respond to his basic law question. “I can assure you of that.”
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) recommended Bjelkengren to the White House to serve as federal district court judge last September, calling her nomination one to be replicated for “its emphasis on diversity of professional experience and background.”
During Wednesday’s hearing, Murray advocated for Bjelkengren’s confirmation, calling the judge an “exceptional nominee.”
“Judge Bjelkengren has over two decades of experience serving the people of Washington State, working thoughtfully through tough legal questions that affect their daily lives,” Murray said, adding that Bjelkengren “reflects the diversity of this country.”
Former Democratic Washington Gov. Jay Inslee appointed Bjelkengren to the Spokane County Superior Court in 2019, becoming the first female African American judge in Eastern Washington. Bjelkengren is a graduate of Mankato State University and received her Juris Doctor degree from Gonzaga University School of Law in 2000.
The American Bar Association, which continuously gives Democratic judges better ratings than Republican judges gave Bjelkengren a “qualified” rating.
Kennedy’s harsh questioning of judicial nominees is not new for the Louisiana Senator who is well-known for his schoolmasterly grilling of judicial candidates and has thwarted a nominee from being confirmed before. Matthew Petersen, a lawyer, and former Federal Election Commission commissioner nominated by then-President Donald Trump to serve on the U.S. District Court for D.C. withdrew his nomination from consideration days after a cringeworthy viral exchange with Kennedy. Petersen, who had never tried a case nor argued a motion in court had a difficult time answering basic questions about the law that were posed by Kennedy.
Kennedy brutally grilled Petersen on the “Daubert standard,” which has to do with expert witness testimony, and the definition of a “motion in limine,” which is Latin for a “motion at the start” which is defined as a request that is sent to a judge and can be used in either civil or criminal proceedings regarding the introduction of evidence.
“Just because you’ve seen ‘My Cousin Vinny’ doesn’t qualify you to be a federal judge,” Kennedy told Petersen at the time, a reference to the 1992 movie in which an inexperienced lawyer tries a big case. “And he has no litigation experience. And my job on the judiciary committee is to catch him. I would strongly suggest he not give up his day job.”
Democrats at that time seized on the “public humiliation” of Petersen as proof that the President is putting ideology ahead of qualifications when it comes to a judicial lifetime appointment.
However, it is unclear if Bjelkengren is ashamed that she failed to identify fundamental legal concepts along with significant sections of the nation’s founding document would lead to her following Peterson’s footsteps in withdrawing from consideration. Democrats this time around are choosing to remain silent while the White House declared they “proudly” are sticking by Biden’s nominee despite her failure to answer simple legal questions. Bjelkengren’s chances to be confirmed to serve as a federal judge are secured given Democrats have a full majority on the Judiciary Committee and the Senate chambers. If Bjelkengren receives all Democratic votes on the Senate Judiciary Committee to move her confirmation for a full Senate vote and she receives at least 50 of the 51 votes on the Senate floor, the Superior Court Judge will be confirmed.
“Some of these nominees that have been forced in the last two years have no business being anywhere near a federal bench — they don’t have any business being anywhere near a park bench,” Kennedy said to NBC News after the hearing.
“I don’t ask the nominees, ‘Do you support this precedent or you support that precedent?’ I asked them to tell me about the law, tell me what the Constitution says, tell me about the relationship between the federal judiciary and our administrative agencies. These are all very basic questions,” Kennedy added.Charnelle BjelkengrenConstitutionPresident BidenSen. John KennedySenateSenate Confirmation HearingSenate HearingSenate Judiciary HearingU.S. District Judge