His legal colleagues, including some who’ve had vigorous disagreements with him over the election law issues he’s worked on as a member of the Federal Election Commission, know Matthew Petersen as a smart, decent guy.
But in five embarrassing minutes on Thursday in a Senate hearing room, Petersen demonstrated that smarts and decency alone don’t qualify one for the federal bench.
Appearing with four other men nominated for federal judgeships by President Trump, Petersen ran into a gentle but nonetheless devastating series of questions from Sen. John Neely Kennedy, R-LA., a member of the Judiciary Committee. The senator and Petersen are both graduates of the University of Virginia law school, and as the questioning progressed and Petersen’s unpreparedness for the bench emerged, Kennedy seemed almost as pained as the nominee.
By midday on Friday, Petersen’s halting admissions that he’s never tried a case and is unfamiliar with what lawyers said are basic rules of trial practice had been viewed online more than 3 million times and his confirmation by the full Senate looked unlikely at best.
You can watch the full video below. Apart from deconstructing Petersen, it raises deeply disturbing questions about how the administration and the legal profession are screening judicial candidates.
As a federal district judge, Petersen would enjoy a lifetime appointment and would preside over criminal cases that could carry the death penalty and civil disputes with millions of dollars at stake. He would have the power, subject to review by appeals courts, to issue orders that Trump and future presidents would be bound to follow.
Petersen’s hearing came two days after Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-IA, publicly urged Trump to “reconsider” two other judicial nominees and a day later declared that those men will not be confirmed by the Senate. One of those nominees, Brett Talley, had been approved by Grassley’s committee on a party line vote, but the chairman clearly had second thoughts and interceded to derail the nomination.
As Trump nears the end of his first year as president, 19 of his judicial nominees, including Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, have cleared the Senate. The president has declared that reshaping the federal bench is one of his highest priorities.
Office: Common Cause National
Issues: More Democracy Reforms