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

Trump judicial nominee gives up following public embarrassment

After a year in which Senate Republicans have confirmed Donald Trump’s conservative judicial nominees at a breathtaking pace, three of the president’s nominations have been derailed in just the past week.

Brett Talley withdrew because of his profound lack of qualifications; Jeff Mateer’s nomination ended when senators learned of his bizarre anti-LGBT animus; and yesterday, Matthew Petersen also called it quits.

Matthew Petersen, the judicial nominee who was widely ridiculed last week after a video went viral of him struggling to answer basic legal questions at his Senate confirmation hearing, withdrew from consideration on Monday.

Petersen … said in his withdrawal letter to President Donald Trump that it had “become clear to me over the last few days that my nomination has become a distraction – and that is not fair to you or your Administration.”

Trump nominated Petersen for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, which carries a lifetime tenure.

Up until recently, Petersen was probably best known for his work opposing many campaign-finance limits as a Bush-appointed commissioner on the Federal Election Commission. Now, however, he’s known as the guy who was quizzed by Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) about basic procedural questions – and failing miserably to pass that test.

Reflecting on the exchange during a radio interview yesterday, Kennedy said Petersen is a “really smart” and “decent guy,” but added, “[J]ust because you’ve seen ‘My Cousin Vinny’ doesn’t qualify you to be a federal judge.”

Ouch.

But as striking as it is to see three Trump judicial nominees fail in a week – following a year in which zero other judicial nominations were derailed – let’s not miss the forest for the trees: who’s vetting these guys?

Remember, as part of the process, the White House, often in consultation with home-state senators, sends judicial nominees to Capitol Hill for confirmation ostensibly because the president and his team believe they deserve a lifetime position on the federal bench. In theory, before a nomination is formalized, the White House subjects would-be judges to some kind of scrutiny, evaluating their qualifications, among other things.

With that in mind, can Trump World offer some kind of explanation as to who keeps dropping the ball? Or is this a situation in which officials in the West Wing don’t much care about judicial nominees’ qualifications and simply expect the Republican-led Senate to rubber-stamp those who enjoy the president’s backing?

Federal Courts, Federal Judiciary and Judicial Nominees

Trump judicial nominee gives up following public embarrassment