Biden Judicial Nominee Fails To Explain Basics of Constitution During Confirmation Hearing

Biden U.S. district court nominee Charnelle Bjelkengren / Wikimedia Commons
January 26, 2023

President Joe Biden's judicial nominee for a U.S. district court failed on Thursday to answer basic questions about the U.S. Constitution, including the functions of the second and fifth articles.

After Sen. John Kennedy (R., La.) grilled Judge Charnelle Bjelkengren, Biden's nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington, during her confirmation hearing about the articles, the judge said those parts of the Constitution were "not coming to mind at the moment."

Article II lays out the structure of the Executive Branch, and Article V explains the amendment process.

"In my 12 years as an assistant attorney general, and my 9 years serving as a judge, I was not faced with that precise question," Bjelkengren said after Kennedy asked whether she could define the concept of purposivism, a theory of constitutional interpretation in which a judge looks to the intention of a legislature to understand the law's purpose.

Kennedy said Bjelkengren is "going to be faced with" the concepts if confirmed. "I can assure you of that," he said.

Bjelkengren will be up for a committee vote in the coming days, and there have been no reports of a potential withdrawal. After one of then-president Donald Trump's federal court appointees, Matthew Petersen, similarly failed to define several terms used in federal courts during his 2017 confirmation hearing, the nominee withdrew from consideration.

"I had hoped that my nearly two decades of public service might carry more weight than my two worst minutes on television," Petersen wrote in a letter to Trump.

During Wednesday's hearing, Sen. Patty Murray (D., Wash.) advocated for Bjelkengren's confirmation, calling the judge an "exceptional nominee."

"Judge Bjelkengren has over two decades of experience serving the people of Washington State, working thoughtfully through tough legal questions that affect their daily lives," Murray said.

The senator added that Bjelkengren "reflects the diversity of this country."

Washington governor Jay Inslee (D.) in 2019 appointed Bjelkengren to the Spokane County Superior Court. She previously served as a Washington State assistant attorney general.

Bjelkengren attended Mankato State University and Gonzaga University School of Law, where she received a "diversity scholarship."