GOP resistance quashes nomination for Spokane County Judge Charnelle Bjelkengren

 January 17, 2024

President Joe Biden's controversial nomination of a Spokane County judge to a federal judgeship in 2022 will not be extended, according to the Spokesman Review.

Judge Charnelle Bjelkengren of Spokane County Superior Court requested not to be renominated, the court said in a statement on Tuesday, this on the heels of a thorough questioning by Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.).

“I asked the President not to renominate me due to the uncertainty of my confirmation, and in order to advance the important work of the federal judiciary,” she wrote. “My hope is for the swift confirmation of the next nominee.”

Following protracted delays and harsh criticism from Republicans, Bjelkengren found the nomination process to be challenging.

Kennedy questioned Bjelkengren during her confirmation hearing in January 2023, and she came under fire for not responding to him or avoiding his questions.

Kennedy's Questions

Kennedy pressed her to elaborate on Article II of the Constitution, which goes beyond merely designating judges, in order to define the powers of the presidency.

In addition, Bjelkengren erred when pressed to define "purposivism," the legal theory that seeks to understand a statute according to its original intent rather than its literal interpretation, and Article V of the Constitution, which outlines the procedure for changing the country's founding constitution.

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

“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.”

Republicans in Congress and their media supporters criticized her comments, claiming Bjelkengren lacked qualifications.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky claimed she had "flunked" questions on topics that "high schoolers across America learn each year" during a speech on the Senate floor on January 31.

Democrat Support

Democrats, such as Sen. Patty Murray, supported her, pointing out that the American Bar Association had classified her as "qualified."

After being nominated to the bench by Governor Jay Inslee in 2019, Bjelkengren became the first African American woman to hold the position in Spokane County.

Through his nominations, Biden has made it plain that he wants to diversify the predominantly white and male federal bench.

Bjelkengren, who was raised in Menahga, a small town in northern Minnesota, graduated in 1997 from Mankato State University—later known as Minnesota State University, Mankato. In 2000, she graduated from Gonzaga University with a law degree.

It was then that she told The Spokesman-Review in 2019 that she fell in love with Spokane and made the decision to stay.

After that, she worked as the assistant attorney general for the state of Washington beginning in 2003. From 2013 to 2019, she was an administrative law judge at the Office of Administrative Hearings in Spokane Valley.

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