Judicial Nominee Failed to Disclose Wife's Ties to White House

Posted by Dale Eisman on November 14, 2017


Most people think of the president as the most important, and the most powerful person in our government – and with good reason.

But in our system, even presidents sometimes take orders from federal judges. A single U.S. District Court judge in any one of the 94 districts scattered across the U.S. can issue orders that the president and federal agencies nationwide must obey. While those decisions can be appealed and the district court’s order may be stayed pending the results of an appeal or ultimately overturned, each judge nonetheless wields enormous authority.

And each judge enjoys a lifetime appointment that shields him/her against the political winds that buffet presidents and other elected officials.

So when the president nominates a lawyer for a district judgeship who has never tried a case in court and has been practicing law for only three years, it’s cause for concern. When that nominee has been rated “not qualified” by his peers in the American Bar Association, it’s cause for alarm. And when that nominee fails to inform senators that his wife is the chief of staff for the White House counsel, you’ve got a powerful – maybe irresistible – case that the nomination should be withdrawn.

That’s where the Trump administration is today on the nomination of Brett J. Talley for a district court vacancy in Alabama. But rather than withdrawing the 36-year-old Talley’s name and minimizing its embarrassment, the administration is doubling down and pushing for his confirmation on the Senate floor.

“Mr. Talley served as Deputy Solicitor General for the state of Alabama, currently serves in the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Policy and was recommended by Alabama’s U.S. Senators,” said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. “He is more than qualified to serve in the federal judiciary.”

Talley’s nomination was endorsed on a party line vote last week by the Senate Judiciary Committee. It could be called up for a floor vote at the discretion of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Charles Geyh, an Indiana University law professor who teaches judicial ethics, told The Washington Post that Talley’s marriage to Ann Donaldson, the chief of staff to White House counsel Don McGahn, is not disqualifying. Talley would be expected to recuse himself from any case in which his marriage might create a conflict of interests, Geyh said.

“The 800-pound gorilla was that it was not disclosed. It makes it, at the very least, incredibly poor form . . . It’s something that the Senate has every right to be in front of it to decide whether it’s a problem,” he added.

Talley is a former speechwriter for U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-OH, and the author of three published horror novels and two “true ghost” stories, The Post reported. He was an outspoken Trump supporter and Clinton critic in last year’s election, at one point tweeting that “Hillary Rotten Clinton might be the best Trumpism yet.” His wife was an associate for the Washington law firm Jones Day before she was named McGahn’s deputy at the White House.

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Office: Common Cause National

Issues: Ethics

Tags: Judicial Ethics

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