One of President Trump’s federal judicial nominees struggled during his confirmation hearing to answer basic questions about the law, prompting backlash from Democratic senators and law professors.
Trump nominated Matthew Spencer Petersen to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in September. Petersen is currently a member of the Federal Election Commission.
During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., asked Petersen and four other nominees which of them had not tried a case to verdict in a courtroom.
Only Petersen raised his hand.
Petersen then told Kennedy said he has never tried a case in either civil or criminal court, or state or federal court. He also said he has taken less than five depositions and has never argued a motion in either state or federal court.
Kennedy asked Petersen when was the last time he’d read the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which govern civil proceedings in U.S. District Courts, including the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
“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,” Petersen answered.
Petersen also told Kennedy he hadn’t read the Federal Rules of Evidence, which oversee the use of evidence in civil and criminal actions since he was in law school at the University of Virginia.
He graduated in 1999.
When Kennedy asked Petersen if he knew various legal terms, including the Daubert Standard, motion in limine, Younger abstention doctrine, and the Pullman abstention doctrine. The federal court nominee struggled to answer.
“I understand the challenge that would be ahead of me if I were fortunate enough to become a district court judge,” he told the committee. “I understand that the path that many successful district court judges have taken has been a different one that I have taken.”
The five-minute long question-and-answer session received little notice during the confirmation hearing, but was shared widely after Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., posted the exchange on his Twitter account.
MUST WATCH: Republican @SenJohnKennedy asks one of @realDonaldTrump’s US District Judge nominees basic questions of law & he can’t answer a single one. Hoo-boy. pic.twitter.com/fphQx2o1rc— Sheldon Whitehouse (@SenWhitehouse) December 15, 2017
Law school professors also took note of the exchange.
“Don’t want to beat up on the guy but the questions he was being asked could be answered by a second year law student. 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,” Aderson Francois, a professor at Georgetown Law, tweeted.
Don’t want to beat up on the guy but the questions he was being asked could be answered by a second year law student. 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— aderson francois (@abfrancois) December 15, 2017
Though the GOP-controlled Senate has confirmed many of Trump’s federal judicial nominees with relatively little controversy, scrutiny over Petersen’s experience comes after Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said he opposed two of Trump’s nominees to federal district courts.
Like Petersen, Brett Talley, who was nominated for the federal district court for the Middle District of Alabama, was criticized for having never tried a case.
Jeff Mateer, who was nominated for the federal district court for the Eastern District of Texas, was found to have made derogatory statements about transgender children, calling them proof “Satan’s plan is working.”