Matthew Petersen, a Trump administration federal judge nominee, withdrew after he was unable to answer basic questions during his confirmation hearing about the courtroom process, showed little familiarity with federal trial rules and acknowledged that he had never prosecuted or defended a case, the New York Times reports. A clip of the exchange between Petersen, and Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA), became a viral sensation and drew ridicule across the internet. Petersen’s withdrawal was the third Trump nomination to collapse in recent days. Last week, the White House pulled back two other trial court nominees. Brett Talley also had scant trial experience and apparently defended the early Ku Klux Klan under a pseudonym on a sports website. Jeff Mateer once described transgender children as proof of “Satan’s plan.”
The departures were an embarrassment for the White House, at the end of what has otherwise been a year of success on judicial nominations. President Trump has rapidly begun reshaping higher levels of the federal bench by appointing deeply conservative judges. Following a strategy outlined by White House counsel Donald McGahn, Trump moved swiftly to install Justice Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court and appointed a dozen appeals court judges, a modern record for a president this early in his tenure. The attention Trump’s team spent on filling higher-ranking vacancies may have left less time for vetting trial court nominees. Trump has nominated about three dozen district judges, but only six have been confirmed. Several nominees have come under fire for lack of experience, out-of-the-mainstream statements or poor preparation for confirmation. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said Petersen was “clearly not qualified” and that there was “no room for on-the-job training” on the bench in the nation’s capital, where he had been nominated to serve.