Embarrassing: Sen. Kennedy grills Biden judge nominee on U.S. Constitution

by WorldTribune Staff, January 27, 2023

Article VI of the U.S. Constitution states that all federal officials must take an oath in support of the Constitution.

But what good is taking that oath when a judicial appointee seemingly doesn’t even have a basic understanding of the Constitution?

Sen. John Kennedy and Judge Charnelle Bjelkengren

Judge Charnelle Bjelkengren, who was nominated by Joe Biden to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington, was unable to answer basic questions about the U.S. Constitution posed by Louisiana Republican Sen. John Kennedy during a Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

Bjelkengren, of Spokane County Superior Court in Washington State, could not answer Kennedy’s questions about what different parts of the U.S. Constitution do and how courts might interpret laws.

“Tell me what Article V of the Constitution does,” Kennedy asked Bjelkengren at the beginning of his question time.

“Article V is not coming to mind at the moment,” the judge said.

Article V of the Constitution concerns the amendments process.

“How about Article II?” Kennedy followed-up.

Bjelkengren was unable to recall the answer.

Article II invests the executive power in the president of the United States, enumerating the powers of the executive branch.

Kennedy then asked if Bjelkengren knew what “purposivism” is. She was again unable to give an answer. Purposivism, or the purposive approach, is a philosophy of interpreting the law that emphasizes the law’s purpose — advocating for judges to enforce the spirit of the law when it contradicts with the text of the law, according to Harvard Law professor John F. Manning, writing in the Columbia Law Review. In contrast, textualists argue that judges must strictly adhere to the law’s enacted text, when it is clear.

“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.”

Kennedy did not seem impressed: “Well, you’re going to be faced with it if you’re confirmed, I can assure you of that.”

If she gets all Democrat votes on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and 50 votes on the Senate floor, Bjelkengren will be confirmed.

In 2017, President Donald Trump’s nominee to the federal judiciary, Matthew Petersen, pulled his name from consideration after a video showed him unable to answer questions posed by Kennedy.

“Just because you’ve seen ‘My Cousin Vinny’ doesn’t qualify you to be a federal judge,” Kennedy told Petersen at the time.

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