Toobin: What excruciating video of judicial nominee reveals

The video is excruciating to watch.President Trump nominated Matthew Petersen, a member of the Federal Electio...

Posted: Dec 16, 2017 4:20 PM
Updated: Dec 16, 2017 4:20 PM

The video is excruciating to watch.

President Trump nominated Matthew Petersen, a member of the Federal Election Commission, to serve a lifetime appointment on the federal district court in Washington, D.C. He is being questioned -- politely but insistently -- by John Kennedy, a Republican Senator from Louisiana.

The subject, at first, is Petersen's experience in litigation, or, as it turns out, his lack thereof. Petersen admits he has never tried a case, never argued a motion, never taken a deposition by himself -- basically that he has never done any of the tasks that are crucial to the work of the courts.

Kennedy then moves on to Petersen's knowledge of the law, which turns out to be similarly lacking. Petersen doesn't know about the Daubert standard (which covers the admissibility of expert testimony), motions in limine (which attempt to restrict evidence heard in trials), or the abstention doctrines (which cover the relationship between federal and state law).

The Senate may or may not approve Petersen, even after this embarrassing performance. He has close connections to Republicans in both the Senate and the White House, and used to work with Don McGahn, the White House counsel.

But the real message of the video is about the unsung successes of the Trump administration and Republican-controlled Senate. All through the last two years of Barack Obama's presidency, Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, bottled up the President's nominations to fill federal judgeships.

Most famously, McConnell refused to allow consideration of Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. But McConnell's blockade considered the lower federal courts as well, leaving dozens of vacancies for the new President to fill.

And President Trump has filled them, with the enthusiastic concurrence of the Republican majority in the Senate. Because of all the vacancies, Trump is on the fastest pace to fill judgeships since Richard Nixon, two generations ago. And Trump has filled these seats with highly partisan conservatives.

Most of them, to be sure, have also been highly qualified and knowledgeable, like Neil Gorsuch, who was confirmed for the Scalia seat earlier this year. In recent months, the quality control on the nominations seems to have slipped.

Embarrassments like Petersen, and Brett Talley (who also never tried a case) and Jeff Mateer (who called transgender children part of "Satan's plan") have reached the Senate, and Talley and Mateer have already been withdrawn. (A similar fate probably awaits Petersen.)

But the larger point is that judicial conservatives have made huge progress during the Trump presidency. Since most federal cases never reach the Supreme Court, these judges will be able to shape the law that affects millions of people. Their agendas are clear: anti-abortion rights, anti-gay rights, opposition to affirmative action, limitations on voting rights and lower barriers between church and state.

Petersen may have had a bad day in the Senate, but the conservative cause is otherwise flourishing in the courts.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Confirmed Cases: 33068

Reported Deaths: 2068
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion9524558
Lake3494175
Cass15897
Allen141966
St. Joseph122134
Hendricks114268
Hamilton113292
Elkhart110128
Johnson1092106
Madison58459
Porter50522
Bartholomew49034
Clark47941
LaPorte42022
Tippecanoe3823
Howard37824
Delaware37636
Jackson3721
Shelby36822
Hancock32727
Floyd31739
Boone30535
Morgan27724
Vanderburgh2592
Montgomery23417
White2308
Decatur22431
Clinton2221
Noble20421
Grant19721
Dubois1903
Harrison18921
Henry16910
Greene16824
Monroe16512
Warrick16528
Dearborn16521
Vigo1538
Lawrence15223
Miami1401
Putnam1357
Jennings1294
Orange12422
Scott1203
Ripley1106
Franklin1098
Kosciusko1011
Carroll933
Daviess8416
Steuben812
Marshall801
Newton7610
Wayne756
Fayette747
Wabash742
LaGrange682
Jasper661
Washington511
Jay490
Fulton471
Clay461
Rush452
Randolph453
Jefferson431
Pulaski410
Whitley383
Owen351
Sullivan341
DeKalb331
Brown331
Starke323
Perry280
Wells270
Benton260
Huntington262
Knox250
Tipton241
Crawford230
Blackford222
Parke190
Spencer191
Switzerland190
Fountain182
Posey160
Gibson142
Adams131
Ohio130
Warren121
Vermillion100
Martin90
Union80
Pike60
Unassigned0161

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Confirmed Cases: 115833

Reported Deaths: 5186
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook753063519
Lake7933281
DuPage7460350
Kane6083167
Will5356268
Winnebago209153
McHenry148870
St. Clair105077
Kankakee83644
Kendall75119
Rock Island63923
Champaign5957
Madison54557
Boone42416
DeKalb3704
Sangamon34328
Randolph2674
Jackson25610
McLean21613
Ogle2002
Stephenson1992
Macon19219
Peoria1918
Out of IL1831
Clinton18017
Union1519
Unassigned1490
LaSalle14113
Whiteside13412
Iroquois1314
Coles12313
Warren1130
Jefferson10116
Knox960
Grundy952
Monroe9311
McDonough847
Lee791
Tazewell704
Cass690
Henry670
Williamson602
Marion500
Jasper457
Adams441
Macoupin442
Perry410
Pulaski410
Montgomery391
Vermilion381
Morgan341
Christian334
Jo Daviess320
Livingston322
Douglas260
Fayette203
Ford201
Jersey201
Menard190
Mason180
Washington180
Woodford182
Hancock160
Mercer160
Shelby161
Bureau151
Carroll142
Bond121
Franklin120
Piatt120
Schuyler120
Clark110
Crawford110
Fulton110
Brown100
Cumberland100
Logan100
Moultrie100
Wayne91
Alexander80
Henderson80
Johnson70
Massac70
Saline70
Effingham61
Greene50
Marshall50
De Witt40
Lawrence40
Richland30
Stark30
Clay20
Edwards20
Gallatin20
Hamilton20
Wabash20
White20
Calhoun10
Hardin10
Pike10
Pope10
Putnam10
Edgar00
Terre Haute
Few Clouds
78° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 79°
Robinson
Scattered Clouds
76° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 78°
Indianapolis
Broken Clouds
74° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 74°
Rockville
Scattered Clouds
74° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 74°
Casey
Broken Clouds
77° wxIcon
Hi: 77° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 79°
Brazil
Few Clouds
78° wxIcon
Hi: 77° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 79°
Marshall
Few Clouds
78° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 79°
Cooling off, B-E-A-utiful weekend ahead!
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events