'Deal with the devil.' Secret Biden-McConnell deal on anti-abortion GOP judge enrages Democrats

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Democrats are blasting President Joe Biden for agreeing to nominate an anti-abortion Republican to a lifetime federal judgeship in Kentucky, less than a week after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

"The president is making a deal with the devil and once again" and "the people of Kentucky are crushed in the process," Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Charles Booker tweeted after The Courier Journal broke the story Wednesday night.

"At a time when we are fighting to protect human rights, this is a complete slap in the face."

U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville, who confirmed Biden is poised to nominate Chad Meredith to U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, called it a "huge mistake."

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Chad Meredith
Chad Meredith

"Why you would pick him to fill a federal vacancy when you're a Democratic president is beyond me."

Yarmuth said the nomination is bad not only because Meredith is anti-abortion but because of his actions in the general counsel office when he helped former Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin issue hundreds of controversial pardons at the end of his term that spurred outrage and a federal investigation.

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Gov. Andy Beshear, said Thursday he also strongly opposes the pick, saying his team was informed last week that Biden intended to nominate Meredith.

Beshear said his understanding is that Biden has not yet submitted the nomination, “which I hope means in the very least it's on pause.

“If the president makes that nomination, it is indefensible.”

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Biden was poised to nominate Meredith presumably as the result of an undisclosed deal with U.S. Mitch McConnell, Yarmuth told The Courier Journal.

McConnell has blocked the nominations of two lawyers for U.S. attorney positions there were recommended by Yarmuth. The presumption is that with Meredith's nomination, McConnell would agree not to hold up future federal nominations from the Biden White house, Yarmuth said.

"We were informed by White House staff that this nomination was coming," Yarmuth said. "I expressed my objections to it in the strongest terms I use."

Robert Steurer, a spokesman for McConnell, said he would have no comment until Biden makes his nomination.

There are currently no open federal judgeships in Eastern Kentucky. However, Eastern District Judge Danny C. Reeves is eligible for senior status when he turns 65 years old Aug. 1, while Judge Karen Caldwell is already eligible.

Neither Reeves nor Caldwell could be reached for comment.

Yarmuth said "clearly someone has agreed to resign and we don't know what deal has been made with that person, and I think that's something to media needs to try to figure out."

Beshear: Bevin pardons should be disqualifying

Beshear said Meredith should be disqualified from a nomination for his work on Bevin's controversial pardons and commutations, saying Meredith “aided and advised on the most egregious abuse of power by a governor in my lifetime.”

The Courier Journal reported in 2020 that Meredith was one of the staff attorneys involved in string of controversial acts of clemency Bevin doled out at the end of his term in 2019.

Bevin administration documents showed Meredith was one of Bevin's general counsel staff to give recommendations to the governor on whether certain applicants deserve clemency.

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One spreadsheet of clemency applicants from those records showed "Chad working" written next to the name of Patrick Baker — one of the most controversial pardon recipients, who was convicted of killing a man in a robbery and whose family hosted a fundraiser for Bevin at his home.

Former Gov. Matt Bevin (left) speaks with Eric Baker (right) and others guests at his campaign fundraiser on July 26, 2018 at the Corbin home of Baker.
Former Gov. Matt Bevin (left) speaks with Eric Baker (right) and others guests at his campaign fundraiser on July 26, 2018 at the Corbin home of Baker.

“If you are a lawyer that advised on that and went along with it, you should be disqualified from serving in a role where you would hand out sentences," Beshear said. "I mean, these are individuals who are pardoned who are walking free today, despite committing terrible violent crimes.”

Meredith’s personal lawyer, Brandon Marshall, has told The Courier Journal Meredith had "no meaningful involvement with any of the most controversial pardons about which the media has made much.”

Directing his attention back to Biden, Beshear added: “I don't know how the president could say he's for public safety if he makes this nomination.”

'A deal with the devil'

Booker, who is challenging Sen. Rand Paul for his seat, reacted with even harsher criticism to news of Meredith's pending nomination on Twitter, writing, "This is some bulls—."

"The president is making a deal with the devil, and once again, the people of Kentucky are crushed in the process," Booker tweeted. "At a time when we are fighting to protect human rights, this is a complete slap in the face."

A White House spokesman declined to speak on the nomination, saying "we do not comment on vacancies."

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Yarmuth said the Meredith nomination is obviously "some kind of effort to appease Mitch McConnell, which is something this state and country should be very upset about."

"Mitch McConnell was not elected by anyone outside of Kentucky, yet he is imposing his individual will on the federal judiciary and the president of the United States just because he has the power to do it, not because it makes sense good sense for our country."

Nicole Erwin, the spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates-Kentucky, issued a statement that did not directly address the Biden nomination but expressed concern.

"We need judges in place that prioritize the health and wellbeing of people in Kentucky and reflect the diversity and progressive values of the nation now more than ever — that means nominating qualified and unbiased judges to the bench,” Erwin said.

Nominee a Federalist Society member

Meredith is a Federalist Society member who served as deputy counsel to Bevin and more recently solicitor general for Attorney General Daniel Cameron.

Cameron is now a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor in 2023.

He defended a 2017 Kentucky abortion law requiring doctors who perform abortions to first perform an ultrasound and describe the image to the patient, losing first at a trial in federal court before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later upheld the statute.

As the top appellate lawyer for Cameron, Meredith also successfully defended a state law in the Kentucky Supreme Court that stripped Gov. Beshear of his emergency power to implement COVID-19 restrictions.

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Meredith was being vetted for a federal judgeship in 2020 by President Donald Trump’s administration but was later dropped from consideration for that position.

He is a longtime member of the Federalist Society, from which Trump drew nominees for the Supreme Court and other judgeships.

Meredith previously practiced as a litigator with Frost Brown Todd in Louisville and Ransdell & Roach of Lexington. Since leaving the attorney general's office in January, he has worked at Cincinnati law firm Squire Patton Boggs.

Reporter Caleb Stultz contributed to this story.

Reach reporter Joe Sonka at jsonka@courierjournal.com and follow him on Twitter at @joesonka. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today at the top of this page.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Biden-McConnell deal on judge enrages Democrats following Roe v. Wade