Trump judicial nominee struggles with basic legal knowledge during hearing

Trump judicial nominee struggles with basic legal knowledge during hearing

Matthew Peterson, a member of the Federal Election Commission, has been nominated to fill a judgeship on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Judge Wayne R. Andersen, who was a federal judge in the northern district of IL for close to 20 years, explained that there was a continuing debate within the legal profession about the qualifications required of a trial judge.

A lawyer nominated by US President Donald Trump to be a federal judge has become an internet sensation after having difficulty answering basic legal questions.

Kennedy, who has been the toughest questioner among the 11 Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked if Petersen had ever handled a jury trial, argued a motion or taken a deposition.

Senator Kennedy starts out by asking if any of an assembled group of judges had never tried a case to verdict.

Petersen alone raised his hand.

Senator Kennedy is one of the few Republicans who has expressed reservations.

KENNEDY: Have you ever tried a - taken a deposition by yourself?

"State or federal court?" State or federal court? No.

Petersen: Probably somewhere in that range. You'll see that a lot in federal court.

On it went for five uncomfortable minutes, as Petersen was unable to provide answers to the questions Kennedy posed.

"In my current position", Petersen stuttered, "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".

Sen. Kennedy: Ok. When's the last time you read the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure?

"All the way through?" He says he hasn't looked at them properly since law school.

Sen. Kennedy: Well, as a trial judge you're obviously going to have witnesses. The U.S. Supreme Court held in Younger v. Harris that federal courts can not meddle with or shut down state criminal proceedings unless something really, really, really, really, really bad is going on (in legal terms, an "irreparable injury" which is "both great and immediate").

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"I don't have that readily at my disposal", Petersen responded.

Kennedy cut him off.

Question: Can you tell me what the Daubert standard is?

Question: Do you know what a motion in limine is?

Petersen's response to being unable to answer that question was not promising.

The subject, at first, is Petersen's experience in litigation, or, as it turns out, his lack thereof. I understand that the path that many successful District Court Judges have taken has been a different one than I've taken.

Kennedy then moves on to Petersen's knowledge of the law, which turns out to be similarly lacking. Later he added: "I would probably not be able to give you a good definition". After that, he worked briefly as counsel to the Republican National Committee and served as counsel for two congressional panels.

Still, President Trump set a record this year for appointments to the federal bench. He served five years there with Don McGahn, now Trump's White House counsel.

"In the past year, I have supported almost every one of President Trump's picks, but I don't blindly support them", Senator Kennedy said in a statement. On Tuesday, it confirmed Leonard Steven Grasz, one of the other nominees rated "unqualified" by the ABA, to the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

When video of the interrogation made its way online, several high profile law professors tweeted their surprise.

"For many of us who are involved in law we were a bit surprised", said Aderson Francois, Georgetown Law School. "Even if you know zero about evidence the one doctrine every law student knows is Daubert because it's a very famous case about standard to admit expert testimony".

Petersen: The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. He earned a law degree from the University of Virginia in 1999.

Others put their concerns more bluntly.

Petersen: The Federal Rules of Evidence all the way through?

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