Fri 27 January 2023 0:25, UK

Judge Charnelle Marie Bjelkengren was unable, in the moment, to answer senator John Kennedy’s questions about articles two and five of the US constitution, and the term purposivism, raising questions about where she went to law school, and where she received her education in general.

Bjelkengren is a nominee for the position of US district judge for Washington’s eastern district.

She told Kennedy that Article V was “not coming to mind at the moment,” likewise Article II.

He then asked her to define purposivism, which Legal Theory Blog defines as an approach to interpreting legal doctrine that “maintains that the legal effect of a statute should be determined by the objective purpose of the statute.” She said she hadn’t come across the term before.

Photo by: Don and Melinda Crawford/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Where did Charnelle Marie Bjelkengren go to law school? Education history explored

Judge Charnelle Bjelkengren went to law school at Gonzaga University, in Spokane, Washington. As of 2023, she is about 47 years old. Born 1975 in Great Lakes, Illinois, she received a diversity scholarship to go to Gonzaga.

Specifically, she earned her Juris Doctor degree from Gonzaga University School of Law in 2000 – nearly 23 years ago now. 

GU Law has been around since 1912, 25 years after establishment of the university itself. Its founding motto was “A First Class Law School, or None at All.”

Several Supreme Court justices have passed through its corridors of learning: Edward M Connelly, class of 1915; Christopher Dietzen, 1973; Mary Fairhurst, 1984; Meagen Flynn, 1992; and others.

Where did Charnelle Bjelkengren go to school before GU Law, and where did she work afterwards?

Before she went to GU Law, Bjelkengren attended Mankato State University (now Minnesota State University), from which she graduated cum laude in 1997.

After graduating from law school in Spokane, Bjelkengren served as an assistant attorney general in the Washington State attorney general’s office. 

Except for a brief pause in 2003-04, she stayed in position there from 2001 until 2013. Then, from 2013 to 2019, she served as an administrative law judge for the same state’s office of administrative hearings.

For the last few years, she has been a judge on the Washington State superior court. 

She is one of eight new federal judicial nominees

Per a White House briefing statement from September 2022, Bjelkengren is one of eight people Joe Biden has nominated for federal judicial positions.

The others are Anthony Johnstone, Gordon Gallagher, Jonathan J C Grey, Colleen Lawless, Orelia Merchant, P Casey Pitts, Ramon Reyes and Arun Subramanian.

They represent Biden’s 26th round of judicial nominees, and the 13th he made in 2022 alone. In total, as of September 2022, he had announced 143 federal judicial nominees. 

As of this week, the US senate had confirmed 97 Article III judges nominated by Biden. The Pew Research Center reported in August last year that he had appointed more federal judges than any president since John F Kennedy at that stage in his presidential tenure.

Photo by ANNA ROSE LAYDEN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Why might people be wondering where Charnelle Marie Bjelkengren went to law school?

As has been widely reported and shared on social media, judge Charnelle Bjelkengren was unable to answer a couple of reasonably basic questions during her senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

Senator John Kennedy asked her to tell him what Article V of the US constitution does; she said it wouldn’t “come to mind.”

He then asked her about Article II; again, she couldn’t think of it. Kennedy then asked her about the term “purposivism.”

She said she had not come across during her time at law school, or working as a lawyer: “In my 12 years as an assistant attorney general,” she said, “in my nine years as a judge, I was not faced with that precise question.” 

“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.”

While some have made much of the exchange, others have downplayed it. One Twitter user said they don’t “think this is a big deal.”

“I think most lawyers/judges may give a similar response,” they added. “And I’m pretty conservative.”

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