Sen. Kennedy stumps Biden judicial nominee with basic questions about Constitution

Kevin Dietsch

A judicial nominee of President Joe Biden was apparently stumped by Sen. John Kennedy's basic questions about the Constitution during her Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday.

Spokane County Superior Court Judge Charnelle Bjelkengren, who was nominated to be a U.S. district judge for the Eastern District of Washington, couldn't answer when Kennedy, R-La., pressed her about articles of the nation's founding document.

“Tell me what Article V of the Constitution does,” Kennedy asked as he began his round of questioning.

“Article V is not coming to mind at the moment,” Bjelkengren replied.

“How about Article II?” Kennedy asked.

Bjelkengren replied that didn’t come to mind for her either.

Article V of the Constitution outlines the process for amending the founding charter, and Article II details the executive powers vested in the president of the United States.

Kennedy then grilled Bjelkengren on whether she knew about “purposivism” — an approach to interpreting statutory law that “maintains that the legal effect of a statute should be determined by the objective purpose of the statute,” according to Legal Theory Blog.

Bjelkengren did not know what “purposivism” was either.

“In my 12 years as an assistant attorney general, in my nine years as a judge, I was not faced with that precise question,” she 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.”

“Well, you’re going to be faced with it as a — if you’re confirmed," Kennedy responded. "I can assure you of that.”

It is unclear whether Bjelkengren’s inability to answer Kennedy’s questions will affect her chances of confirmation now that Democrats have a full majority on the floor and in committees. If she gets all Democratic votes on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and 50 votes on the Senate floor, she will be confirmed.

Kennedy’s harsh questioning of judicial nominees has stopped a nominee from being confirmed before. Matthew Petersen, a lawyer and former Federal Election Commission chairman nominated by then-President Donald Trump to serve on the U.S. District Court for D.C. withdrew from consideration in 2017 following a cringeworthy exchange with Kennedy that went viral. Petersen, who had never tried a case, could not answer Kennedy’s basic law questions either.

Kennedy told NBC News after the hearing, “Some of these nominees that have been forced in the last two years have no business being anywhere near a federal bench — they don’t have any business being anywhere near a park bench."

He added, "I don’t ask the nominees, ‘Do you support this precedent or you support that precedent?’ I asked them to tell me about the law, tell me what the Constitution says, tell me about the relationship between the federal judiciary and our administrative agencies. These are all very basic questions.”

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