In late June 2022, readers asked about a rumor that said U.S. President Joe Biden had struck a secret deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY. According to the claim, Biden's part of the deal would be to nominate Republican, anti-abortion lawyer Chad Meredith for a lifetime appointment as a federal judge in McConnell's state of Kentucky. In return, McConnell would agree to not hold up any future federal nominations by Biden's White House.
The news first spread less than one week after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which effectively stripped away women’s constitutional protections for abortion.
June 29: The News Breaks
The Courier-Journal, a newspaper based in Louisville, Kentucky, first reported the news of the potential deal between Biden and McConnell on June 29.
The paper published that U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville, and Kentucky Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear had both confirmed the existence of the secret deal between Biden and McConnell and expressed strong disagreement with Meredith's pending nomination. Yarmuth called Meredith an "extremist" and said he "strongly opposed" the deal. Beshear said the nomination would be "indefensible."
According to the news, "Meredith is a Federalist Society member who served as deputy counsel to former Kentucky [Republican] Gov. Matt Bevin and more recently solicitor general for Attorney General Daniel Cameron," who was "a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor in 2023."
July 1: Vacancy Opens, Slate Confirms
In a story also published by The Courier-Journal, on July 1, it was reported that U.S. District Judge Karen K. Caldwell of Kentucky's Eastern District would be stepping down. The vacancy would purportedly pave the way for Biden to nominate Meredith, which would then seal the rumored secret deal with McConnell. Spokespersons for both McConnell and the White House declined to comment on the status of the nomination, according to the reporting.
Slate Magazine later reported on the same day that it had confirmed the news, publishing that Caldwell had agreed to step aside on the specific condition that Meredith receive the nomination:
A lawyer with connections to the Kentucky governor’s office who is familiar with the agreement told Slate that Caldwell conditioned her move upon the confirmation of a successor—specifically, the conservative Meredith. In exchange, McConnell will allow Biden to nominate and confirm two U.S. Attorneys to Kentucky.
In an interview, Yarmuth told Slate that he believed Biden was aware of his and Beshear's concerns, but had not yet responded.
Slate also made notable mention of Meredith's involvement with controversial pardons issued by Bevin after he lost his bid for reelection in 2019, as well as the prospective judge's past defense of controversial anti-abortion legislation.
July 2: White House Email
The Courier-Journal broke more news on July 2, publishing that its reporters had previously obtained a White House email that appeared to confirm Meredith's preliminary nomination. According to the reporting, the June 23 email was sent by White House aide Kathleen M. Marshall. The message said that Meredith's nomination was scheduled for the following day. On that day, June 24, it was announced that Roe v. Wade had been overturned.
The newspaper published that the White House had just announced several nominations on June 29, but that Meredith was absent from the list:
It is still unclear why the White House did not follow through with the nomination it had planned, nor when it might be submitted.
On Wednesday, the White House announced a round of federal judicial nominations — but Meredith was not in the group.
The White House declined comment to The Courier-Journal, saying that it does "not comment on vacancies."
As of the early evening hours of July 2, there was no official word yet that Biden had nominated Meredith for the federal judge vacancy in the Eastern District of Kentucky, nor was there any further confirmation of a purported secret deal between the president and McConnell.
The notice that Caldwell was taking senior status was apparently given on June 22. However, that fact didn't become public until the first day of July, which was the Friday before what for many Americans would be a long weekend. The July Fourth holiday was on the calendar for the following Monday.
Further developments regarding the nomination were expected in the coming days and weeks, likely following the holiday weekend. We have reached out to both McConnell and the White House for comment and will update this story should we receive a response.