Louisiana Republican Sen. John Kennedy sent a message to the White House about the qualifications of some of President Trump’s judicial nominees by grilling a court pick about basic courtroom skills as well as more obscure areas of law.
‘Have any of you not tried a case to verdict in a courtroom?’ Kennedy asked a panel of nominees to serve in lifetime appointments at federal courts.
When Matthew Spencer Petersen answered in the negative, Kennedy drilled down on his background.
‘Have you ever tried a jury trial?’
‘I have not,’ Petersen, nominated to serve on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia responded.
Sen. John Kenned calmly and deliberately grilled a Trump judicial nominee on his familiarity and experience with courtroom procedure
‘Civil?’ Kennedy asked, in his low-key drawl.
Petersen hadn’t done that either.
‘Criminal?’ Kennedy asked. ‘No, Petersen said.’
The Republican’s grilling of Petersen was so brutal that Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat, tweeted it out.
‘Hoo-boy,’ Whitehouse wrote.
The humiliation came just two days after the White House said it was pulling back from two other nominations, after Republican Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley spoke to the administration about them.
Petersen was at a loss to answer some of Sen. Kennedy’s questions
Kennedy first asked whether Petersen had ever tried a case (he hadn’t)
THIS WASN’T ON THE LSAT: Then he moved onto legal terms such as the ‘Daubert standard’ and ‘motion in limine’
The nominations ‘will not be moving forward’ in the U.S. Senate, the White House said.
One of those nominees, Brett Talley, was reported by online magazine Slate as having posted online sympathetic comments about the early history of the Ku Klux Klan
He also failed to disclose that his wife works in the White House Counsel’s office, which overseas judicial nominations, where she reports to White House Counsel Don McGahn.
The other, Jeff Mateer, to a federal judgeship in Texas, ran into trouble over speeches he made in 2015. In one, he referred to transgender children as being part of ‘Satan’s plans.’
The brutal testimony went viral after Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island tweeted it
As he learned of Petersen’s lack of court experience, Sen. Kennedy, who practiced law in Baton rouge before entering politics, did not let up.
‘As a trial judge, you’re obviously going to have witnesses. Can you tell me what the Daubert standard is?’ he asked, in reference to expert witness testimony, the Huffington Post reported.
‘Sen. Kennedy, I don’t have that readily at my disposal but I would be happy to take a closer look at that. That is not something I’ve had to contend with,’ he responded.
Kennedy then asked him: ‘Do you know what a motion in limine is?’
Petersen, who served as an associate at a prominent law firm out of law school before joining the Federal Elections Commission, responded: Yes.. I haven’t, I’m, again, my background is not in litigation as when I was replying to Chairman Grassley,I haven’t had to um, again, do a deep dive,’ he said.
‘A “motion in limine” — that’s just a basic, that’s the meat and potatoes of what a trial judge does,’ Dane Ciolino, a Loyola University in New Orleans law professor told the Baton Rouge Advocate, regarding a way to exclude evidence from proceedings. ‘That’s like a surgeon not knowing what a scalpel is, it’s that basic.’
Though at a loss to answer the questions, Petersen doesn’t have fluff on his resume. Like the senator who skewered him, he attended the University of Virginia school of law.
He served as counsel to the Senate Rules committee and chaired the Federal Elections Commission.