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Some of the federal court judicial nominees put forth by the Donald Trump administration have been criticized for their complete lack of experience and for their controversial views. But a clip released Thursday night gave even more ammunition to those who can’t believe the poor quality of some candidates.
The furor (and laughter) increased exponentially when Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) tweeted the five-minute interview between Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) and Matthew Petersen, a Trump nominee for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
It did not go well for Petersen, who couldn’t answer anything Kennedy asked him. And remember, Kennedy is a Republican who theoretically would like to approve as many GOP judicial nominees as he could.
In response, legal observers tweeted their amazement at the clip.
Put ideology aside. Would you want your fate in the hands of a judge who doesn't know basic trial rules and procedure? https://t.co/B9MPk6TTnu— Ronald Klain (@RonaldKlain) December 15, 2017
When you're stumped by Senator John Kennedy, it's probably time to explore alternate career options. https://t.co/rqLWlFcXQW— Miranda Yaver (@mirandayaver) December 15, 2017
This is the definition of a nightmare Senate confirmation hearing: Trump judicial nominee fumbles basic questions about the law https://t.co/t3YLGglJ5u— Robert Barnes (@scotusreporter) December 15, 2017
I dunno—maybe I’m an elitist, but asking a judicial nominee what a “motion in limine” is seems okay. Can we ask Federal Reserve nominees what “inflation” is, or is that too weird? https://t.co/IhzFDuwnWC— Ian Samuel (@isamuel) December 15, 2017
A federal district court judge’s docket is bewilderingly diverse and complex; they handle not just federal law but, because of diversity jurisdiction, also state law. Here is an example of the caliber of folks being given lifetime appointments to the bench https://t.co/AZ4G7AaAHS— aderson francois (@abfrancois) December 15, 2017
Though Petersen seems to have a solid resume for somebody who’s not interviewing for a lifetime appointment position—he currently sits on the Federal Election Commission—some of Trump’s nominees have been bashed by his own party.
Earlier this week, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said two of Trump’s nominees would not be confirmed, including the ghost-hunting Brett Talley—who had never tried a case and who had written anti-Muslim messages and vitriolic comments about the Sandy Hook shooting on a University of Alabama fan message board.
“I’ve advised the White House they ought to reconsider,” Grassley said, via the Hill. “I would advise the White House not to proceed.”
On Thursday, though, the Senate voted 50-48 to confirm Leonard Steven Grasz to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals even though the American Bar Association gave him a rare “not qualified” rating. Based on the Petersen video and the fact it’s been so widely mocked, it seems like he’ll have a tough fight to join Grasz on the bench.
Update 2:00pm CT, Dec. 18: In a letter to President Trump, Petersen withdrew his nomination for the judgeship.
In the letter, Petersen said that, “I had hoped that my nearly two decades of public service would carry more weight than my worst two minutes on television,” but that he was not oblivious to “political realities.”
Josh Katzowitz is a staff writer at the Daily Dot specializing in YouTube and boxing. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times. A longtime sports writer, he's covered the NFL for CBSSports.com and boxing for Forbes. His work has been noted twice in the Best American Sports Writing book series.