Supreme Court hearings aside, it’s rare for a judicial nominee to garner headlines. Matthew Petersen, President Donald Trump’s choice for one of the nation’s most important courts, is now an exception – and not in a good way.
Video of his disastrous testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday has gone viral because Petersen, who works at the Federal Elections Commission and is up for a lifetime-tenured judgeship, couldn’t answer basic questions on procedures most first- or second-year law students are expected to know.
Sen. John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, triggered the crash-and-burn testimony Wednesday after Petersen – a candidate for U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, which has jurisdiction over the Capitol and the White House – acknowledged he’d never tried a case in court at any level. That fact caught Kennedy’s attention, and the senator decided to examine Petersen’s knowledge base.
Petersen’s profound lack of trial experience comes just days after the White House withdrew the names of two judicial nominees, Brett Talley and Jeff Mateer, on the recommendation of Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican and the Judiciary Committee chairman.
Talley, 36, a Justice Department lawyer, hadn’t tried a case in court, didn’t disclose his wife works closely with White House counsel Don McGahn, and may have used a pseudonym to write a defense of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Civil War commander who founded the Ku Klux Klan. The American Bar Association examined his career and gave him a rare “not qualified” rating for a position on the bench.
A high-ranking lawyer in the office of the Texas attorney general, Mateer in 2015 delivered a speech titled “The Church and Homosexuality,” in which he objected to a transgender student using a restroom consistent with her gender identity.
“I mean it just really shows you how Satan’s plan is working and the destruction that’s going on,” he was quoted as saying.
Liberal activists say Petersen’s testimony is further proof that Republicans are trying to pack the courts with conservative ideologues who aren’t qualified for the job. Both Talley and Mateer were approved for confirmation by Grassley’s committee before the White House took Grassley’s advice and asked them to step aside.