Federal Judicial Nominee Fails Basic Law Quiz

Matthew Spencer Petersen

Donald Trump appears to be trying to turn the federal court system into a joke.

That effort was on full display Thursday when Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana decided to give one of Trump’s judicial nominees a basic quiz about laws federal district court judges often deal with on the job.

Matthew Spencer Petersen is up for a seat on the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in Washington DC. He is currently a commissioner on the Federal Elections Commission who was appointed by George W. Bush. But while he may be experienced enough to handle that job, it became clear after a few questions that Petersen is NOT qualified to be a judge.

Why? Because he has zero legal experience and can’t even define basic legal principles.

“Have you ever tried a jury trial?” Senator Kennedy asked?

“I have not,” Petersen replied.

That was strike one, but many more strikes followed.



KENNEDY: Criminal?




KENNEDY: State or federal court?

PETERSEN: I have not.

Petersen has never tried a case in any court, nor has he ever been a judge.

Kennedy then asked Petersen to define some basic legal principles that every federal judge should be able to recite by heart.

KENNEDY: As a trial judge, you’re obviously going to have witnesses. Can you tell me what the Daubert standard is?

PETERSEN: Sen. Kennedy, I don’t have that readily at my disposal but I would be happy to take a closer look at that. That is not something I’ve had to contend with.

For the record, the Daubert standard is a rule of evidence on admitting scientific expert witness testimony during federal court proceedings.

That’s probably something every federal judge needs to be familiar with, but Petersen obviously had no clue about it.

Kennedy continued quizzing him.

KENNEDY: Do you know what a motion in limine is?

PETERSEN: Yes.. I haven’t, I’m, again, my background is not in litigation as when I was replying to Chairman Grassley, I haven’t had to um, again, do a deep dive.

A motion of limine is a motion that is often brought up outside the presence of a jury to keep prejudicial information that would be unfair to the defendant from being heard.

Yeah, every judge should definitely know about that one.

And then the quiz got even more embarrassing.

KENNEDY: Do you know what the Younger abstention doctrine is?

PETERSEN: Um, I’ve heard of it… but I, again.

KENNEDY: How about the Pullman abstention doctrine?

PETERSEN: I… I heard…

KENNEDY: Y’all see that a lot in federal court.

The Younger and Pullman abstention doctrines must be applied by a judge to refuse to hear a case that would intrude on the powers of another court. They prevent cases from being heard by two courts in the same jurisdiction.

Again, this is something that every judge should know, but Petersen does not.

Here’s the video of the full exchange via Twitter.

This guy clearly should have been laughed out of the hearing after failing to answer so many basic questions.

If it comes down to having an incompetent judge on the bench or no judge at all, I will pick the latter. Because Trump and his ignorant nominees will turn our federal court system into a complete laughingstock where justice is never served. As much as Republicans want to have control of the courts, even they can’t possibly want such nominees on the bench. And if they do, they should be ashamed of themselves enough to resign immediately.

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