A Biden judicial nominee was unable to answer basic questions about the U.S. Constitution posed by Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., during a Senate hearing on Wednesday.
Judge Charnelle Bjelkengren of the Spokane County Superior Court in Washington State was appointed by President Biden to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington. During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Bjelkengren was unable to answer Kennedy’s questions about what the different parts of the US Constitution do and how the courts might interpret the laws.
“Tell me what Article V of the Constitution does,” Kennedy asked Bjelkengren at the start of his Question Time.
“Article V does not come to mind at the moment,” the judge said.
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“How about Article II?” Kennedy followed, but she was unable to remember the answer.
Article V of the Constitution concerns the process of amendments and Article II vests executive power in the President of the United States, listing the powers of the executive.
Next, Kennedy asked if Bjelkengren knew what “purposivism” is, but again she was unable to give an answer. The teleobjective, or purposive approach, is a philosophy of interpreting the law that emphasizes the purpose of the law – arguing for judges to apply the spirit of the law when it contradicts the text of law, according to Harvard law professor John F. Manning, writing in the Columbia Law Review. In contrast, textualists argue that judges must adhere strictly to the enacted text of the law, when it is clear.
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However, the question was lost on Bjelkengren.
“In my 12 years as deputy attorney general, in my nine years as a judge, I haven’t been confronted with that exact question,” Bjelkengren said. “We’re the highest trial court in Washington State, so I often run into issues that I don’t know about, and I scrutinize the law, research, and apply the law to facts presented to me.”
Kennedy didn’t seem impressed. “Well, you’re going to face it if you’re confirmed, I can assure you of that,” he said.
Bjelkengren is a graduate of Mankato State University and received her law degree from Gonzaga University Law School in 2000. She previously served as an assistant attorney general for the Washington Attorney General’s Office.
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In 2013, Bjelkengren became an administrative judge for the Washington State Office of Administrative Hearings.
In 2019, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee nominated Bjelkengren to Spokane County Superior Court, and she became the first African-American female judge in Eastern Washington.