One of President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees was stumped on Wednesday when Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) asked her basic questions about the Constitution.
At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to consider several federal court nominations, Kennedy used his opportunity to question Charnelle Marie Bjelkengren, whom Biden appointed for a federal district court position, by quizzing her knowledge of basic legal texts and theory.
“Tell me what Article V of the Constitution does,” he first asked.
Shockingly, Bjelkengren replied, “Article V is not coming to mind at the moment.”
Article V of the Constitution, the second-shortest of the seven articles, explains the procedure for amending the Constitution, both the process for how amendments are proposed and how they are ratified.
“How about Article II?” Kennedy pressed in response
“Neither is Article II,” Bjelkengren responded.
Article II establishes the executive branch and defines its powers. It explains the role of the presidency, how a president is elected and removed from office, and the president’s unique responsibilities and powers.
Bjelkengren’s inability to explain the text of the Constitution was particularly stunning because most Americans are taught the basic ideas of the Constitution’s seven articles in their high school civics class.
Finally, Kennedy asked Bjelkengren if she is aware of “purposivism,” a legal interpretative theory that emphasizes taking into consideration the purpose of a law or policy when interpreting it. The question is important because of the rise of purposivist interpretations.
Unfortunately, Bjelkengren could not answer the question.
“In my 12 years as an assistant attorney general, in my nine years as a judge, I was not faced with that precise question,” she responded. “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.”
Kennedy fired back, “Well, you’re going to be faced with it if you’re confirmed, I can assure you of that.”
Bjelkengren has served as a judge on the Spokane County Superior Court since 2019.
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