It’s not often when a Democrat in the Senate calls a performance by a Republican colleague “must watch,” but this definitely qualifies for the exception. Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) honed in on Matthew Spencer Peterson during a Judiciary Committee hearing for five nominees to the federal district court after the former FEC commissioner raised his hand to admit he’d never tried a case in court. In a five-minute span, Kennedy forced Peterson to stumble through admissions that he’d rarely even taken depositions and never on his own, had no knowledge of basic procedural doctrine or of evidentiary standards used in federal court.
Kennedy, a Republican, is clearly not enchanted with Peterson:
— Sheldon Whitehouse (@SenWhitehouse) December 15, 2017
Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?
Let the record show that Matthew S. Peterson isn’t a lightweight. He has served as chair of the FEC for a year and commissioner for almost nine, and also as counsel to two congressional committees — the Senate’s Rules and Administration panel and the House’s House Administration Committee. Peterson isn’t just some guy selected by the White House as a warm body to fill a spot; he’s well known and well regarded — in those roles.
However, that makes Peterson a good candidate for an administration post, not a trial judge with a lifetime appointment to the bench. Judges have to manage trials, balance the competition between opposing counsel, and need to have knowledge of the basic rules of evidence and procedure without constantly stopping to look them up. While not everyone who gets appointed to a federal district court has judicial experience, one would expect them to have litigation experience at some level in order to be qualified for the job. Or at least to have crammed a bit on procedure before his confirmation hearing.
While everyone on the Right appreciates the prioritization by the Trump administration to fill judicial openings, perhaps they need to slow down long enough to find litigators to fill these slots, especially at the district court level where trials are actually conducted. That will not only keep people like Peterson from getting humiliated but also make other nominees more credible at the same time. I’m sure the other four nominees on this panel would have appreciated that.
Addendum: For what it’s worth, an attorney explained Kennedy’s questions and their basic value to courtroom management on Twitter later in the evening. Follow the thread if you like.