One of President Trump's US district judge nominees admitted to a startling lack of actual legal experience on Thursday while being questioned by Republican Sen. John Kennedy.
Matthew Spencer Petersen, a commissioner on the Federal Election Commission, was unable to answer questions about basic legal terms, said he had probably personally helped take between 5 and 10 depositions, and had never tried a jury, civil, criminal, bench, state, or federal trial. The grilling was first reported by the National Law Journal.
Sen. Kennedy is the only Republican senator so far to vote against one of Trump's judicial nominees, stating he was "not impressed" with one nominee who blogged under a pseudonym and expressing frustration on others dodging questions.
The Trump administration is currently working to fill more than 100 vacant court seats with conservative judges.
You can read a transcript of the exchange here:
Sen. Kennedy: You can just raise your hand on this one, if you will, to save a little time. Have any of you not tried a case to verdict in a courtroom?
(Petersen raises his hand.)
Sen. Kennedy: Mr. Petersen. Have you ever tried a jury trial?
Petersen: I have not.
Sen. Kennedy: Civil?
Sen. Kennedy: Criminal?
Sen. Kennedy: Bench?
Sen. Kennedy: State or federal court?
Petersen: I have not.
Sen. Kennedy: OK. Have you ever taken a deposition?
Petersen: I was involved in taking depositions when I was associate at Wiley Rein, when I first came out of law school, but that was...
Sen. Kennedy: How many depositions?
Petersen: I would... I'd be struggling to remember.
Sen. Kennedy: Less than 10?
Sen. Kennedy: Less than five?
Petersen: Probably somewhere in that range.
Sen. Kennedy: Have you ever taken a deposition by yourself?
Sen. Kennedy: Have you ever argued a motion in state court?
Petersen: I have not.
Sen. Kennedy: Have you ever argued a motion in federal court?
Sen. Kennedy: OK. When's the last time you read the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure?
Petersen: The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure... I... 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. We do have at the FEC roughly 70 attorneys who work under our guidance, including a large litigation division. And as a commissioner, we oversee that litigation, we advise them on all legal strategy, provide recommendations and edits to briefs and so forth and meet with them about how we're going to handle...
Sen. Kennedy: I'm sorry to interrupt you, but we're only given five minutes for five of you. When's the last time you read the Federal Rules of Evidence?
Petersen: The Federal Rules of Evidence all the way through? Would, well, comprehensively, would have been in law school. Obviously I have been involved when I was associate, that was something we had to stay closely apprised of. There have been some issues dealing with evidentiary issues, that will cause me to examine those periodically in our oversight role in the litigation division at the FEC. There have been some issues dealing with evidentiary issues that will cause me to examine those periodically in our oversight role.
Sen. Kennedy: Well, as a trial judge you're obviously going to have witnesses. Can you tell me what the Daubert Standard is?
Petersen: Senator Kennedy, I don't have that readily at my disposal, but I'd be happy to take a closer look at that. That is not something I've had to contend with.
Sen. Kennedy: Do you know what a "motion in limine" is?
Petersen: Again, my background is not in litigation, as when I was replying to Chairman Grassley. I haven't had to, again, do a deep dive. And I understand and I appreciate this line of questioning. I understand the challenge that would be ahead of me, if I were fortunate enough to become a district court judge. I understand that the path that many successful district court judges have taken has been a different one than I've taken. But as I mentioned in my earlier answer, I believe that the path that I have taken... to be one who has been in a decision-making role on now I'd guess now somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 enforcement matters, overseeing I don't know how many cases in Federal Court the Commission has been a party to during my time...
Sen. Kennedy: I've read your resume. Just for the record, do you know what a "motion in limine" is?
Petersen: I would probably not be able to give you a definition right here at the table.
Sen. Kennedy: Do you know what the Younger abstention doctrine is? Any experience with that?
Petersen: I've heard of it.
Sen. Kennedy: How about the Pullman abstention doctrine? You'll see that a lot in federal court. OK. Any of you blog?
Sen. Kennedy: Any of you ever blogged in support of the Klu Klux Klan?
Petersen: No, Senator.
Sen. Kennedy: OK, let the record reflect everybody said "No," Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Chuck Grassley: Thank you, senator. The record will show that.
Sen. Kennedy: Thank you, gentlemen. I wish we all had more time to spend together.
(Thumbnail image of Kennedy by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)