One of President Donald Trump's judicial nominees — a man who, if confirmed, would sit on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for life — failed to answer basic legal questions during his confirmation hearing on Thursday night.
Matthew Spencer Petersen, who currently serves as a commissioner on the Federal Election Commission, was questioned by Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., and found himself fumbling over information that Kennedy implied should have been common knowledge.
After admitting that he had no experience trying a jury trial, civil trial, criminal trial, bench trial or state or federal court trial, Petersen revealed a stunning display of ignorance over fundamental legal facts. Kennedy first asked about the Daubert Standard, which is used as a preliminary guideline for assessing the validity and applicability of a scientific expert's testimony. Petersen did not know the answer.
Kennedy then asked about motion in limine, which is a motion made at the beginning of a trial to exclude certain evidence. After initially giving the appearance that he knew the answer to that question, Petersen had to admit when pressed that he did not.
Kennedy finally asked Petersen if he knew about an abstention doctrine (when a court refuses to hear a case because it may infringe upon the powers of another court) based on the 1971 Supreme Court case Younger v. Harris. Petersen was not able to answer that question as well. He was also unable to answer a question about an abstention doctrine related to the 1941 Supreme Court case, Railroad Commission v. Pullman Co.
Petersen did however ace two important questions. He could say that he hadn't written blog posts and, similarly, confirmed that he had never blogged in favor of the Ku Klux Klan.
There have been a number of judicial candidates nominated by Trump who have raised concerns about their own qualifications. Leonard Steven Grasz, despite getting a rare "not qualified" rating from the American Bar Association, was backed to serve on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on a party-line vote. Trump also nominated Brett Talley to be a federal judge in Alabama, even though Talley has never argued a motion, only practiced law for three years and made partisan comments on his blog that would normally be considered unbecoming for a judge, such as denouncing the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate as "Hillary Rotten Clinton."