Louisville, K.Y. – A new name emerged onto the scene this past week and that name is Justin R. Walker, U.S. District Court Judge of the Western District of Kentucky. Mr. Walker, in a brilliant summary of the importance of religious liberty as a Church and the State, went head to head in a battle of the Free Exercise Clause of the 1st amendment.
Last Tuesday, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said that he was strongly suggesting that churches not host in-person or drive-in services Easter weekend because he wanted to keep them and the city safe amid the coronavirus pandemic.
On Fire church sued the Louisville mayor and the city on Good Friday, arguing that the mayor’s suggestions against holding drive-in services violated the congregation’s constitutional rights. In the lawsuit, the church argued that “gathering on Easter is critical.”
The church posted on its Facebook page Saturday stating that it would continue to follow CDC guidelines for social distancing practices.
On Saturday, US District Court Judge Justin R. Walker blocked Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer from forbidding drive-in church services on Easter to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Walker’s order prevented the city from “enforcing; attempting to enforce; threatening to enforce; or otherwise requiring compliance with any prohibition on drive-in church services at On Fire” Christian Church, according to court documents.
Walker’s memorandum opinion reads in part: “On Holy Thursday, an American mayor criminalized the communal celebration of Easter.” That sentence is one that this Court never expected to see outside the pages of a dystopian novel, or perhaps the pages of The Onion.
But two days ago, citing the need for social distancing during the current pandemic, Louisville’s Mayor Greg Fischer ordered Christians not to attend Sunday services, even if they remained in their cars to worship–and even though it’s Easter.
The Mayor’s decision is stunning. And it is ‘beyond all reason,’ unconstitutional.”
Judge Walker was nominated by President Trump in April 2019 but recently announced his intent to nominate Walker to serve as Circuit Judge on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. If Walker is confirmed, he will fill the seat previously held by now Associate Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Walker is widely praised by conservatives, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The president has confirmed judges to the federal appeals court at a record-breaking pace over the past three years. Walker will be the president’s third nominee to the D.C. Circuit, which is regarded as the most influential appeals court in the country.
Walker clerked for Justice Kavanaugh while he sat on the D.C. Circuit, and was a passionate defender during his brutal 2018 confirmation process as Kavanaugh faced uncorroborated and salacious allegations of sexual misconduct. Walker also clerked for former Justice Kennedy.
The American Bar Association (ABA) has rated Walker as “not qualified” because he has had less than 12 years experience practicing law. The ABA said “it has no questions about Walker’s temperament or integrity and that it believes he has great potential to serve as a federal judge.”
Walker was raised in Louisville. He earned his Bachelor of Arts, summa cum laude, from Duke University in 2004 and his Juris Doctor, magna cum laude, from Harvard Law school in 2009 where he served on the Harvard Law Review