A gavel sits on a desk inside the Court of Appeals at the new Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center, which celebrated its official opening on Monday Jan. 14, 2013, in Denver. 
Photo by Brennan Linsley/AP

Republican senator publicly embarrasses Trump judicial nominee


This hasn’t been a great week for Donald Trump’s judicial nominees. Confronted with bipartisan opposition, the White House had no choice but to pull Brett Talley’s and Jeff Mateer’s nominations, both of which were bizarre and difficult to defend.

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Yesterday, as the Washington Post  reported, things got a little worse.

Nomination hearings for U.S. district judges tend to be dry affairs that offer little in the way of mass entertainment — in other words, they’re not typically the stuff of viral videos.

But a clip of one of President Trump’s federal judicial nominees struggling to answer rudimentary questions about the law garnered well more than 1 million views in a matter of hours on Thursday night and stoked speculation that another of the president’s nominations might get derailed.

At issue is Trump’s nomination of Matthew Petersen, perhaps best known for his work opposing many campaign-finance limits as a Bush-appointed commissioner on the Federal Election Commission. Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) decided to ask Peterson some basic questions about trial procedures – things a would-be judge should ostensibly be aware of – as a test of his qualifications for a lifetime position on the federal bench.

The video went viral in legal circles for a reason: Petersen did not pass the senator’s quiz. (For the record, I wouldn’t have passed the quiz, either, but I’m not a lawyer and no one’s nominated me to serve on the federal judiciary.)

But as remarkable as the exchange was yesterday, I think there’s a broader significance to this story beyond one nominee’s embarrassment.

For example, as Donald Trump’s political power wanes, there’s at least some evidence to suggest senators are now more willing to balk at some of the president’s more outlandish nominees.

If the president is going to undermine the federal judiciary by nominating unqualified jurists, it’s up to Republican senators – which is to say, the Senate majority – to stop him.

Indeed, I’m especially interested at this point in what happens next. Brett Talley, for example, is a 36-year-old lawyer who’s never tried a case or argued a motion in court. He’s also expressed “a fervent interest in investigating and writing about paranormal activities.” His nomination ended this week, but not before Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee – literally, each of them – voted for his nomination.

What will the vote look like when it’s time for those same senators to weigh in on Matthew Petersen’s nomination? Is this really a new day for scrutiny of Trump’s court picks – has the rubber stamp really been put away – or were Talley and Mateer a fluke?

Federal Courts, Federal Judiciary and Judicial Nominees

Republican senator publicly embarrasses Trump judicial nominee