Senate must reject Brett Talley's nomination for federal district court in Alabama
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It’s no secret that Americans all over the country are watching Alabama this week. The candidacy of former Alabama judge Roy Moore for the vacant U.S. Senate seat, particularly in light of appalling allegations raised by several women, has made the state the epicenter for our national conversations about not just politics, but race, the rule of law, and even basic morality.

But the Senate is quietly considering another critical issue that impacts Alabama and the rest of the country too: the nomination of a 36-year-old man named Brett Talley for a lifetime seat on the federal district court in Alabama. 


As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Alabama’s only member of the Congressional Black Caucus, we are deeply concerned – disturbed even – by the prospect of Mr. Talley becoming a federal judge in Alabama, and we believe all Americans should be, too.

First, the context and history of the seat Mr. Talley is nominated for in the Middle District of Alabama is critical to understanding why his potential confirmation could be so damaging.

The Middle District of Alabama has played a central role in our nation’s progress on civil rights over the past half century. For example, it was a decision from the Middle District of Alabama that allowed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s marchers to continue their journey to Montgomery. It was a decision from the Middle District of Alabama that declared Montgomery’s segregated buses unconstitutional following the boycotts galvanized by Rosa Parks’ arrest. The Middle District of Alabama ruled that African American men and women must be allowed to serve on Alabama juries, struck down Alabama’s poll tax, and mandated integration of public schools.

It is within this context and history that we must view the nomination of Mr. Talley, whose background and lack of experience are, frankly, shocking.

Mr. Talley’s behavior and history outside of the courtroom paints a portrait of someone almost uniquely unfit to serve as a federal judge in Alabama. Thousands of Internet posts and comments – which Mr. Talley failed to even disclose – reveal a prejudice that has no place in the nation’s judiciary.

In one post, Mr. Talley defended the Ku Klux Klan, denying its early pursuit of white supremacy through assassinations and threats of violence. 

In another, Mr. Talley cavalierly commented that it would be “awesome” to bring back the electric chair, or “cheap” and “effective” to “[j]ust shoot” people on death row, dismissing arguments about innocence and mitigation. 

These disturbing posts and many others reflect biases that do not belong in any courtroom, much less one that holds a special place in our nation’s civil rights history.

Aside from these offensive personal opinions, Mr. Talley also lacks the most basic qualifications and experience to serve as a federal judge. He has practiced law for only three years. He has never tried a case, and he has never argued a motion or presented a witness in court. The American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Judiciary unanimously rated Mr. Talley “not qualified” – making him only the fourth nominee to receive such a rating in the past quarter century.

Despite all of this, the Trump administration and congressional Republicans are employing every trick in the book to catapult Mr. Talley to the federal bench. 

President TrumpDonald John TrumpMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Republican John James concedes in Michigan Senate race MORE secured the vacancy on the Middle District of Alabama for Mr. Talley by moving an earlier nominee, Magistrate Judge Terry Moorer, to a different judicial district.  Magistrate Moorer, one of the few African American jurists in Alabama, had served on the Middle District of Alabama since 2007 – ironically enough, the same year Mr. Talley graduated from law school. 

Before that, Judge Moorer served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Middle District for 17 years.  But somehow, it is Judge Moorer who is being moved to another part of the state, and Mr. Talley’s nomination that is being fast-tracked through the Judiciary Committee.

Now, it appears Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellImmigration, executive action top Biden preview of first 100 days Spending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight McConnell pushed Trump to nominate Barrett on the night of Ginsburg's death: report MORE (R-Ky.) and his Republican colleagues are planning to push Mr. Talley through the Senate and onto the federal bench.

In 2015, we marched together in Selma to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Bloody Sunday, when foot soldiers of the civil rights movement bravely faced violence to awaken the conscience of a nation and propel forward the Voting Rights Act. 

Just as it was 52 years ago, today, Alabama is again the place where we must fight for civil rights for all Americans. Federal judges across the country are called upon daily to vindicate the rights of the poor, the disenfranchised, the powerless and the unpopular. The Middle District of Alabama, as much as any other district in the United States, needs qualified, fair-minded judges to continue this tradition and safeguard the rule of law.

We have closely scrutinized Mr. Talley’s background and his record, and we urge the Senate to reject this nomination. He has neither the experience nor the temperament for the position he is nominated to fulfill.

Coons is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sewell represents Alabama's 7th District.