Matthew Spencer Petersen, a Trump judicial nominee who became a laughingstock after he was unable to define basic legal vocabulary words during his confirmation hearing, has reportedly withdrawn his name from consideration for a federal judgeship. Petersen is the third Trump judicial nominee in less than a week to withdraw or otherwise lose his shot at the bench.
“I had hoped that my nearly two decades of public service might carry more weight than my two worst minutes on television,” Peterson wrote in a defiant letter withdrawing from consideration for the judgeship. “However, I am no stranger to political realities, and I do not wish to be a continued distraction from the important work of your Administration and the Senate.”
Two other nominations were also recently scuttled after Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) raised objections to them.
Brett Talley, who was widely criticized as unqualified for a federal trial judgeship — Talley is 36 years old, only worked a few years as a lawyer, and has never tried a case — withdrew his name. And the White House confirmed that it would not move forward with the nomination of Jeff Mateer, a former senior executive for a Christian right legal shop who once labeled a transgender grade school student part of “Satan’s plan.”
So that’s three wannabe judges down — two for incompetence, and one apparently because he held ideological views that even a critical mass of Senate Republicans found objectionable. This is good news if you don’t like the idea of President Donald Trump filling the bench.
It is not, however, a reason for Trump’s opponents to grow complacent — or to think that they will have less of a battle ahead of them when Trump is long gone but his judicial appointments continue to shape American law.
It is tempting to assume, because Trump is a poster child for government incompetence and many of his high-level appointees appear similarly unprepared for their jobs, that unqualified nominees like Petersen and Talley are the rule among Trump’s judges.
The reality, however, is that most of Trump’s nominees are extraordinarily intelligent, well-credentialed ideologues in the vein of Neil Gorsuch. As ThinkProgress previously wrote in a profile of Trump’s appellate nominees, “Gorsuch possesses all of the virtues that lead to personal success and none of the virtues that enable compassion.” And Trump is well-on-his-way to filling the federal appeals courts with dozens of him — including other nominees with stridently anti-LGBTQ views, nominees that defended voter suppression, and a recently confirmed nominee who once suggested that sexual harassment claims are “hype.”
Though Senate Republicans appear to have drawn the line against a nominee who literally claimed that a first grader was part of a broader scheme by The Devil, they have yet to find any other nominee’s views too objectionable to prevent their confirmation.