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Trump Judicial Nominee Withdraws after Being Unable to Answer Basic Questions
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Matthew Petersen

Summary: Another one of President Trump’s judicial nominees withdraws from being considered after it became clear his qualifications were not up to par.

Another one of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees has withdrawn after a video surfaced that made him look incompetent. Matthew Petersen withdrew from being considered for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.


The video clip released by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) on Twitter show Petersen being questioned by Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) on the basics of legal procedure. Petersen, who was being considered for a lifetime appointment on the bench, was unable to answer those basic questions.

“While I am honored to have been nominated for this position, it has become clear to me over the past few days that my nomination has become a distraction – and that is not fair to you or your Administration. I had hoped my nearly two decades of public service might carry more weight than my two worst minutes on television. However, I am no stranger to political realities, and I do not wish to be continued distraction from the important work of your administration and the Senate.”

Petersen is the third person Trump has nominated to withdraw in the past week after drawing criticism and Democrats and others about their qualifications. Petersen, a graduate of the University of Virginia Law School, has been a member of the Federal Election Commission since 2008. While he has experience, Petersen has no trial experience.

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The five-minute video during Petersen’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Whitehouse wrote that the video clearly shows “he can’t answer a single” question about the basis of law. The conversation between Kennedy and five nominees, including Petersen, went as such: “Have any of you not tried a case to verdict in a courtroom?” Petersen was the only one to raise his hand so Kennedy focused his questions on him. Kennedy asked him if he had ever handled a jury trial which Petersen replied, “I have not.” He then went on to ask if he had handled any kind of trial, civil, criminal, bench trial, state or federal court? Petersen had not.

Kennedy went on to question Petersen on when the last time he read the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Petersen said, “In my current position, I obviously don’t need to stay as invested in those on a day-to-day basis, but I do try to keep up to speed.” After questioning Petersen, he didn’t find him “quite ready to be a federal judge,” which Kennedy told Trump.

Trump was not upset that Kennedy was critical of Petersen. In their conversation, Kennedy said Trump told him, “Kennedy, do your job, I’m not upset at anybody.” Kennedy explained, “He just said do your job, I’ll never criticize you for doing what you think is right.”

Trump was on track to set records for the number of judicial nominees receiving confirmations by the Senate. There have been six district court judges, 12 circuit court judge and one Supreme Court justice confirmed by the Senate since Trump took office.

Last week, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley suggested to the White House to “reconsider” two nominees. The nominees, Brett Talley and Jeff Mateer, allegedly endorsed groups or positions that support discrimination. A day after Grassley told the White House to think about the nominees, their nominations were pulled. Democrats also urged for both nominees to be pulled because of their lack of qualifications.

Petersen’s supporters did not find a problem with his lack of trial experience. Wiley Rein partner Jan Baran, who hired Petersen to his election law group right out of law school, said, “I wasn’t aware that being a trial lawyer was a precondition to being a district court judge, particularly in the District of Columbia. Judges in the D.C. court usually handle one of two types of cases; the most frequent would be cases involving administration agencies, which Matt Petersen has a great deal of experience with.”

Do you think federal judges should be required to have trial experience? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

To learn more about President Trump’s nominations, read these articles:



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