The biggest story in Kentucky politics this week is an unconfirmed “deal” between President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) over a soon-to-be vacant seat on the federal bench.
The so-called deal, news of which broke two days ago but which the White House has not confirmed, would have Biden appointing a Republican anti-abortion lawyer who is a member of the Federalist Society to the federal bench in return for McConnell easing the way for other Biden judicial nominees — or, as Slate reported after this article was published, two U.S. attorney nominees for Kentucky.
Word of the alleged arrangement has the state’s Democratic governor and sole Democratic member of Congress in an uproar and trying to scuttle whatever Biden and McConnell were up to.
News of the arrangement broke after the White House told the Democrats, Gov. Andy Beshear and Rep. John Yarmuth, that they intended to nominate Chad Meredith to a judgeship in the Eastern District of Kentucky.
Both men went public with the news, talking to the Louisville Courier-Journal on the record. The newspaper first reported the potential nomination deal Wednesday. Yarmuth told the paper “itâ€™s clear” the arrangement was part of a deal with McConnell.
Bidenâ€™s press office didnâ€™t return TPMâ€™s request for comment about the potential nomination, and the Courier-Journal reported Friday that the White House has repeatedly declined questions about the story – saying only, “we do not comment on vacancies.”
Democrats are stumped, even outraged, by the news, which came less than a week after the Supreme Court’s conservative majority, which McConnell helped engineer, overturned Roe v. Wade and stripped away the constitutional right to an abortion.
â€śThis is some bullshit,â€ť Senate candidate Charles Booker tweeted. â€śWhy you would pick him to fill a federal vacancy when you’re a Democratic president is beyond me,â€ť Yarmuth said.
“At this time when abortion rights are under assault, there’s no deal worth cutting that would elevate another anti-abortion rights extremist to the federal courts,” said Brian Fallon, the executive director of the progressive courts group Demand Justice. “Mitch McConnell’s hand-picked judges are the cause of the crisis our judiciary faces, not part of the solution.â€ť
In 2017, Meredith, a member of the Federalist Society, defended a Kentucky law in court that required doctors performing abortions to first show and describe an ultrasound to their patients — because, he said, â€śthere are a number of patients who donâ€™t understand the nature of the fetus within them.â€ť
Meredith was working for former Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevinâ€™s (R) administration when that governor signed off on a series of wildly controversial pardons in his last days in office, including the pardon of a murderer whose brother hosted a fundraiser for the governor.
A spreadsheet connected to the pardons listed â€śChad workingâ€ť next to the killerâ€™s name, the Courier-Journal reported. But Meredithâ€™s lawyer told the paper his client had “no meaningful involvement with any of the most controversial pardons about which the media has made much.â€ť
Meredithâ€™s pardon work alone, Gov. Andy Beshear (D) said in a press conference Thursday, should disqualify him from being a federal judge.
â€śIf the President makes that nomination it is indefensible,â€ť Beshear said, adding that he hoped the nomination had at least been paused. â€śI donâ€™t know how the president could say heâ€™s for public safety if he makes this nomination.â€ť
At the time the news initially broke of the potential Meredith nomination, there were no judicial vacancies in the Eastern District of Kentucky. Since then, U.S. District Judge Karen Caldwell has announced that she’s taking “senior status,” opening up a vacancy in the district for Biden to fill. Another judge in that district, Chief Judge Danny Reeves, becomes eligible to take senior status on Aug. 1.
The exact nature of the potential deal Biden has apparently struck with McConnell is unknown. The Courier-Journal reported Thursday, citing Yarmuth, that â€śthe presumption is that with Meredith’s nomination, McConnell would agree not to hold up future federal nominations from the Biden White House.â€ť
Dealmaking around judicial nominations isnâ€™t unheard of. But the prospect of a lifetime appointment for an anti-abortion judge was too much for some progressive groups to handle.
“It is completely unacceptable for Democrats to even consider confirming an anti-abortion judge to a lifetime appointment, especially in the wake of last weekâ€™s devastating news on Roe. People are going to die because of a lack of abortion access,â€ť said Rakim H.D. Brooks, president of Alliance for Justice.
“We donâ€™t know the details of this alleged deal, but we cannot understand why the administration would be working with McConnell to appoint an anti-abortion member of the Federalist Society to a lifetime position on the federal bench.”