Win many, lose two: WH bails on controversial judicial nominees

If there is one area on which Republicans across the spectrum agree on Donald Trump’s performance, it’s the judiciary. After a slow start, the White House has aggressively filled openings on the district and appellate court levels. In fact, as Roll Call pointed out yesterday, Trump will likely set a new record for appellate confirmations in the first year of a presidency — helped in no small measure by Harry Reid’s deployment in 2013 of the “nuclear” option that eliminated the filibuster on presidential appointments:

Senate Republicans are set to confirm three more of President Donald Trump’s appeals court picks this week, a push that will help set a record for the most such appointments in a president’s first year in office.

The Senate is expected to confirm Steve Grasz for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, and James Ho and Don Willett for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, over the objections of Democrats who question whether they can be unbiased.

That would mean at least a dozen Trump appointees would join the nation’s appeals courts — which have the last word in all but the 100 or so cases that the Supreme Court decides each year — in his first year in the White House. That comes in a year the Senate also confirmed Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch in April.

It’s quite the success story, one which Republicans disaffected from Trump use to remind themselves that the alternative would have been worse. That doesn’t mean that a few road bumps might not materialize, however. One controversial nominee that had made it past his Senate Judiciary Committee hearing won’t get a confirmation vote, NPR reports:

The nomination of Brett Talley, the Justice Department official in line for a lifetime judicial appointment, “will not be moving forward,” a Trump administration official told NPR Wednesday.

Talley had been rated “unanimously unqualified” for the post by the American Bar Association this year after an evaluation that questioned his experience. Talley had never argued a case, or even a motion, in federal court, he testified.

Even after Talley’s nomination advanced through the Senate Judiciary Committee on an 11-to-9 party-line vote, media reports and good government groups cast doubt on his credentials for the spot on the U.S. District Court in Alabama, along with raising questions about his alleged failures to disclose blog posts and his wife’s work in the Trump White House.

Judiciary chair Chuck Grassley fired off a warning shot yesterday on both Talley and Jeff Mateer, both of whom got “unqualified” ratings from the American Bar Association. Grassley had pushed Talley forward anyway, but apparently got blindsided by Talley’s failure to disclose his political activity in comboxes and various blogs, as well as the familial connection to the White House.

Buzzfeed reported last night that Talley offered to withdraw his name from consideration:

 One of President Donald Trump’s controversial judicial nominees, Brett Talley, has offered to withdraw his nomination, a source close to the situation told BuzzFeed News. …

BuzzFeed News first reported on thousands of posts that Talley appeared to have written for a University of Alabama sports fan website, including on gun control, immigration, and other political subjects.

In one post on, poster “BamainBoston,” who identified himself as Talley in 2014, wrote in response to the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, “My solution would be to stop being a society of pansies and man up.”

Slate highlighted another post by BamainBoston that appeared to defend the early iteration of the Ku Klux Klan.

Yeah … that’s not a good look for the White House or for Grassley. Small wonder Grassley’s sore about this.

Later in the day, Mateer also got yanked:

White House officials say the nomination of Brett Talley has been withdrawn. And a person familiar with the process says the administration hasn’t submitted paperwork for the nomination of Jeff Mateer and does not intend to. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal deliberations.

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has said the two nominees were going nowhere.

Mateer also failed to disclose some of his political activities, including one speech in which he said that transgender children are part of “Satan’s plan.” Mateer had not come up for committee review yet, and Grassley made it pretty clear that the nomination would not survive that process.

This points to an issue seen repeatedly in this administration — a lack of thorough vetting for appointments. It’s good to set records, but federal bench appointments last a lifetime. They need a little more scrutiny, especially when appointing people who have never served on a bench or litigated a case in court. That’s not to say that such nominees might not turn into valuable jurists, but for those nominees, surprises are not going to be pleasant. Ever. Grassley is sending a message that if they don’t improve that vetting process, he will … and they’re not going to like the surprises that occur any more if that happens, either.

Nevertheless, this is still shaping up as a good week for Trump on the courts. Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett should get confirmed shortly, and after that James Ho, to the appellate bench. Other than a couple of hiccups on Talley and Mateer, this aspect of the Trump administration has been a huge success.