KY judge to step down, making way for anti-abortion nominee in Biden-McConnell deal

·4 min read

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A longtime Kentucky federal judge has announced she will step down, clearing a path for President Joe Biden's controversial nomination of an anti-abortion Republican to replace her.

U.S. District Judge Karen K. Caldwell of Kentucky's Eastern District is taking senior status, according to the official listing of federal judge vacancies.

The vacancies listing shows Caldwell submitted her notice to move to senior status June 22, but the date hasn't been determined for when that vacancy will begin. The vacancy didn't appear on the federal website until Friday.

U.S. District Judge Karen Caldwell
U.S. District Judge Karen Caldwell

This move would free up a spot for Biden to nominate Chad Meredith, which the White House recently told Democratic officials in Kentucky the president planned to do.

The Courier Journal broke the story Wednesday.

Those Kentucky Democratic officials have blasted Biden for readying the nomination of the Federalist Society member, including Gov. Andy Beshear and U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth of Louisville, the only Democrat in Kentucky's congressional delegation.

More: Biden backs anti-abortion Republican for Kentucky judgeship in apparent McConnell deal

At his press conference Thursday, Beshear said it is his understanding that Biden has not yet submitted Meredith's nomination, “which I hope means in the very least it's on pause."

"If the president makes that nomination, it is indefensible,” he said.

Chad Meredith
Chad Meredith

Spokespeople for the White House have repeatedly declined to answer questions about the status of Meredith's potential nomination, only saying "we do not comment on vacancies."

Yarmuth and other officials have said they believe Biden's move is part of a deal cut with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell so he won't hold up future federal nominations by the White House.

McConnell has been seeking to get Meredith on the bench since President Donald Trump was in office. Meredith was being vetted for a federal judgeship in 2020 by Trump’s administration but later was dropped from consideration.

Meredith previously served as deputy counsel to former Republican Gov. Bevin and more recently as solicitor general for Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron.

Caldwell has been a U.S. District Court judge in Kentucky's Eastern District since her nomination by President George W. Bush in 2001.

She previously served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky from 1987 to 1990, until she was was appointed U.S. attorney for the same district by President George H. W. Bush, serving until 1993

A Courier Journal report on Caldwell's appointment as U.S. attorney in 1991 noted that she had dated McConnell.

McConnell, who recommended Caldwell for that position, said at the time that she was well qualified and should not be barred from the position because of their personal relationship.

More: Democrats furious at Biden's pending nomination of anti-abortion Republican for judge seat

McConnell has long pointed to his role in stacking federal courts with conservative judges as a key part of his legacy.

According to reporting by the New York Times in 2020, McConnell even went so far as to personally reach out to federal judges appointed by past GOP presidents to pressure them into retirement while Republicans still held the White House and Senate majority.

If Biden follows through with a nomination of Meredith and he is later confirmed, McConnell would pull off that feat despite Democrats controlling both the White House and Senate.

Robert Steurer, a spokesman for McConnell, said he would have no comment until Biden makes his nomination. Meredith has also declined to comment.

Abortion rights advocates have expressed outrage at news of the potential Meredith nomination by Biden, who has spent the past week strongly criticizing the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade and calling for changing Senate filibuster rules to codify federal abortion rights.

When in Bevin's office, Meredith defended a 2017 Kentucky abortion law requiring doctors who perform abortions to first perform an ultrasound and describe the image to the patient, losing first at a trial in federal court before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later upheld the statute.

As the top appellate lawyer for Cameron, Meredith also successfully defended a state law in the Kentucky Supreme Court that stripped Gov. Beshear of his emergency power to implement COVID-19 restrictions.

Beshear said Meredith should be disqualified from a nomination for his work on the controversial pardons and commutations of Bevin at the end of his term, saying the deputy counsel “aided and advised on the most egregious abuse of power by a governor in my lifetime.”

“If you are a lawyer that advised on that and went along with it, you should be disqualified from serving in a role where you would hand out sentences," Beshear said. "I mean, these are individuals who are pardoned who are walking free today, despite committing terrible violent crimes.”

Meredith’s personal lawyer, Brandon Marshall, has told The Courier Journal Meredith had "no meaningful involvement with any of the most controversial pardons about which the media has made much.”

Reach reporter Joe Sonka at jsonka@courierjournal.com and follow him on Twitter at @joesonka. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today at the top of this page.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Judge leaves, opens spot for anti-abortion pick in Biden-McConnell deal