President Biden’s Judicial Nominee Charnelle Bjelkengren Stumped by Simple Constitution Questions

President Biden’s nominee for a Washington state federal judgeship could not answer straightforward questions about the Constitution posed by Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana during her confirmation hearing. 

“Tell me what Article V of the Constitution does,” Kennedy asked Charnelle Bjelkengren, Spokane Superior Court Judge, during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s proceedings. 

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

“How about Article II?” pressed Kennedy.

“Neither is Article II,” responded Bjelkengren, which left Kennedy scratching his head.

President Biden nominated Bjelkengren to serve as a federal judge in the Eastern District of Washington.

Article V outlines the procedures for ratifying Constitutional amendments, while Article II gives the office of the President with executive powers. 

Kennedy followed up his questions for Bjelkengren, who graduated from Gonzaga University School of Law, to give the definition of “purposivism,” which is the method judges use to interpret statutes. The judge was again unable to answer.

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

Purposivism is a philosophy of interpreting the law in a way that emphasizes the law’s purpose. It advocates for judges to enforce the law’s spirit when it contradicts its text. Contrary to purposivism are textualists who argue judges must strictly comply with the law’s clearly enacted text.

“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,” she continued.

“Well, you’re going to be faced with it if you’re confirmed; I can assure you of that,” Kennedy warned her. 

Senator Kennedy notorious for grilling judicial candidates

President Donald Trump’s nominee for the federal judiciary, Matthew Petersen, withdrew his name from consideration in 2017 after a video showed him unable to respond to questions from Kennedy correctly.

“Just because you’ve seen ‘My Cousin Vinny’ doesn’t qualify you to be a federal judge,” Kennedy told Peterson at the time. 

According to the White House, the President said he is “proudly” sticking by his nominee, who couldn’t answer basic constitutional questions

President Biden nominated Judge Charnelle Bjelkengren to serve on the Eastern District of Washington U.S. District Court. 

Bjelkengren graduated from Mankato State University and later received her law degree from Gonzaga University School of Law in 2000. 

She served as an assistant attorney general for the office of the Washington Attorney General, then became an administrative judge with the Office of Administrative Hearings in Washington State in 2013.

In 2019, Bjelkengren was appointed by Democrat Governor Jay Inslee to the Spokane County Superior Court, where she became Eastern Washington’s first female African American judge.