Brett J. Talley has quickly become one of President Donald Trump's most controversial judicial nominees after he was deemed to be "not qualified" by the American Bar Association. But, to the White House, the problem isn't with the man they chose to occupy the federal bench for the rest of his life — the problem is with the system.
A Wednesday White House press release capitalized on a Wall Street Journal editorial delegitimizing the ABA — in particular, the committee that has long assisted presidential administrations with what it says is an "independent, nonpartisan peer evaluation of the professional qualifications of every judicial nominee."
The White House pointed to a Tuesday WSJ editorial, entitled "Ruling Out the ABA on Judges."
The editorial stated that if Republicans were "serious about getting President Trump’s judicial nominees confirmed, they will have to rid themselves of the fiction of a politically neutral American Bar Association."
"The outfit’s recent antics provide ample reason to remove it from Senate vetting," the editorial added. "Mr. Trump followed George W. Bush and scrapped the practice of letting the ABA pre-screen nominees for the White House. Yet the Senate continues to give the lawyers’ guild too much sway."
Talley is currently awaiting a Senate confirmation hearing and, if confirmed, he would become a federal district judge in Montgomery, Alabama. But Talley has never once tried a case, and the ABA said he was "unqualified" to fill the judgeship specifically because of his lack of prior experience and qualifications, according to a Nov. 7 letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Surprisingly, only Talley's lack of relevant experience caused the ABA to give him the negative ruling. While Talley has also come under fire for failing to disclose on congressional documents that he is married to a White House lawyer, it didn't seem to be a factor in the ABA evaluation.
"Although Mr. Talley does not, at this point, have the requisite experience, the Committee believes that, given the passage of time and the appropriate experience, Mr. Talley has great potential to serve as a federal judge," the letter said.
The ABA has long served as an evaluator for judicial nominees made by a sitting president, but the White House informed the committee in a March letter that Trump "does not intend to follow the long-standing practice of requesting the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary to evaluate the professional qualifications of prospective nominees to the lower federal courts on a pre-nomination basis."
The "not qualified" rating from the ABA is rare, but not so much for the Trump administration. Talley is the fourth nominee to receive such a rating.