Judicial Nominee Stumped by Basic Questions in Senate Hearing

(USNewsMag.com) – During a hearing for U.S. District Judge appointments, one nominee found herself in an embarrassing exchange with Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana when he asked her to explain two different Articles of the Constitution.

Charnelle Bjelkengren, a Spokane County Superior Court Judge, was nominated by President Joe Biden on the recommendation of Washington Senator Patty Murray. In a September statement, Murray described Judge Bjelkengren as committed to being fair and impartial and promised to work to get the nomination pushed forward quickly for consideration by the Senate. Bjelkengren previously served as an administrative law judge and an Assistant Attorney General in Spokane, Washington. 

While the fairness and impartiality of Judges are basic expectations in the American legal system, for a U.S. District Judge, an understanding of Constitutional law is equally important. 

After congratulating the group of nominees at the hearing, Senator Kennedy addressed Bjelkengren and asked what Article V of the Constitution does. With nearly no hesitation, the Judge responded that it was “not coming to mind at the moment.” The Senator responded by changing the question and asking her to explain Article II. With a smile and a brief pause, she admitted that Article was not coming to mind either. 

Article V establishes the process for amending the Constitution. Article II gives the President executive powers.

Later, when asked to define “purposivism,” she was unable to. The District Court nominee then explained that in nine years as a judge and twelve as an Assistant Attorney General, she had not faced that specific question, but assured the Senators present at the hearing that when she is faced with issues she is not familiar with, a situation she described as frequent, she researches, reviews, and applies the law. 

The Republican Senator from Louisiana has a history of quizzing judicial candidates on their knowledge of the law. One candidate nominated by President Donald Trump in 2017 withdrew himself from consideration after footage surfaced showing him unable to answer the Senator’s questions.

If the Senate approves her nomination, Judge Charnelle Bjelkengren would be appointed to the Eastern District of Washington. 

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