GOP defends Trump judicial nominee with no trial experience

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A young Department of Justice (DOJ) attorney is sailing through the confirmation process in the Senate for a lifetime seat as a federal district court judge in Alabama, despite the fact that he has no trial experience and has never filed a motion in court. 

Brett Talley, a 36-year-old deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice, has become one of Trump’s most controversial judicial nominees. 

The American Bar Association gave him the rare “not qualified” rating two days before the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11-9 along party lines to send his nomination to the floor for a vote.

The New York Times reported on Monday that Talley failed to disclose to the committee that he’s married to the White House counsel’s chief of staff. 

Republicans are supporting him regardless.

“If you go back, whether Democrats were in control or Republicans were in control, there are several examples where people moved up to that level without necessarily have significant trial experience, professors,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). 

Tillis noted that Talley has the support of his home state senators and said he’s going to defer to the committee’s judgment, despite the recent revelation regarding Talley’s wife.

“It is concerning to me that we didn’t know about that disclosure, but I’m not sure if we did know that it would change the outcome of the nomination, but we’re looking at that,” he said. 

In a statement, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) called Ann Donaldson’s position in the White House “perhaps the silliest objection of all” to Talley’s nomination. 

“It’s no secret that Mr. Talley is married. The Judiciary Committee questionnaire asks about ‘potential conflicts of interest,’ not about a spouse’s employer,” he said. 

“It is a mystery why Mr. Talley is being criticized for not disclosing something he was not required to disclose and which, in any event, was public information and was not raised in the course of his confirmation hearing when his wife sat directly behind him in front of members of the committee,” he said.

A White House official said the administration wants to make clear that  Donaldson was not involved in the selection of her husband or any other judicial nomination.

“The men and women the president nominates should be judged on their own merits,” the official said. “Brett Talley worked for and has a relationship with Luther Strange, his home state Senator who advocated for Mr. Talley.”

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he heard from at least one Republican senator who is “troubled” by Talley, but refused to say who. 

“He’s never had a trial in a federal court,” Durbin said. “He’s never filed a motion in a federal court and they are proposing him at age 36 to a lifetime appointment to the federal judiciary and my question was, ‘You can’t find an experienced, conservative, Republican attorney in Alabama?’ You can’t find one?” 

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said he was not aware Talley’s wife was in the White House.

When asked if it would have changed his committee vote had he known he said, “I don’t know.” 

“I don’t know what positions she’s in or how that would effect it, but we’re looking at all of these,” he said.

The liberal Alliance for Justice notes Talley’s job at DOJ is to oversee the nominations unit, which is tasked with ensuring nominees completely fill out the committee questionnaire. 

“The fact that that person is the one who fails to disclose that his wife works at the White House and that he might have a conflict of interest is illustrative of the contempt that this administration is showing both the Senate and the American people regarding the ability to property scrutinize lifetime appointments to lifetime seats on the federal bench,” said Daniel Goldberg, Alliance for Justice’s legal director.

BuzzFeed reported this week that Talley appears to also have written hundreds of posts on the University of Alabama sports fan website, some about immigration and gun control, that he never disclosed on his committee questionnaire. 

“The Senate process is not a game,” Goldberg said. “It’s not designed to hide information so both the Senate and the American people can’t carefully scrutinize an individual’s record. This is an important constitutional function and hopefully the Senate will insist its process is protected and respected.”

Talley’s lack of experience has also been a sticking point for opponents.

The former speech writer for Mitt Romney’s campaign for the presidency, who later worked for Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), said in his questionnaire that his experience practicing law “has largely involved constitutional and regulatory matters” and that most of his work in the district court “was resolved on the briefs rather than in trial.” 

In a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 7, Pamela Bresnahan, chair of the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, said the committee believes Talley “does not, at this point, have the requisite experience,” to be a federal district court judge but that “given the passage of time and the appropriate experience, Mr. Talley has great potential to serve as a federal judge.” 

The White House disagrees.

“Mr. Talley served as deputy solicitor general for the state of Alabama, currently serves in the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Policy and was recommended by Alabama’s U.S. Senators,” said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. “He is more than qualified to serve in the federal judiciary.”

Tags Dick Durbin Jeff Flake Luther Strange Orrin Hatch Rob Portman Thom Tillis

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