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Financial Disclosure in Focus: Judge Walker as Loan Administrator

New from DOJ spokesman (6/2/20, 4:03 p.m.): “Judge Walker and his wife Ann made a loan to two former students to buy land to build their first home together. The two former students had graduated and married at the time the loan took place.  The loan was at the market interest rate at the time—4.25%—and has since been repaid in full.”

New from Dean of Brandeis School of Law Colin Crawford (6/3/20, 5:51 p.m.): “I first heard about these loans on Monday of this week (6/1), when a member of our faculty forwarded to me [this] post. I do not know the terms of the loan agreement, or why the loans were extended.”

Original post (6/1/20): Justin Walker, President Trump’s nominee to the powerful D.C. Circuit, is facing new scrutiny for a bizarre line on his disclosure report, indicating that as a professor he loaned two former law students between $50,001 and $100,000 and potentially charged a high rate of interest.

In section VII, line 14 of the report Walker lists a loan given to Leah Spears and Jake Grey, two 2018 graduates of the University of Louisville Law School and his former research assistants. Spears also happens to be Walker’s law clerk in W.D. Kentucky, and Grey is practicing in a Louisville suburb.

This is not something we’ve ever seen before on a nominee’s or judge’s disclosure.

As concerning as the amount of the loan is the interest rate. Walker reported between $5,000 and $15,000 earned on the loan in the report, which spans Jan. 1, 2019, to Apr. 15, 2020. Depending on where in the range the loan sits, that is an interest rate as low as 3.8% or as high as 23.2% per year, the latter of which is rather steep.

The disclosure raises more questions than it answers, beyond the obvious why and at what rate. In the last few years, the imbalance in the power dynamic between federal judges and their clerks has come into stark focus due to rampant abuses, and the judiciary and Congress have only begun to address this imbalance. Judges continue to wield barely-checked authority in their chambers, and they can make or break their clerks’ careers.

Such an imbalance is exacerbated when a clerk is financially beholden to his or her judge. 

Walker has already sat for confirmation hearings and has responded to the Senate Judiciary’s questions for the record, and in neither instance was the loan raised. We’ve reached out to the judge for comment.

Walker’s nomination has been controversial due to his youth (he’s 38) and his friendship with Senate Majority Leader McConnell (with whom he shared a stage during the pandemic without social distancing).

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