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Beyond embarrassing, inexperienced judicial nominees can ruin lives behind the bench

Beyond embarrassing, inexperienced judicial nominees can ruin lives behind the bench

During last week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, freshman Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) questioned judicial nominee Matthew Petersen as he showcased his ignorance of basic legal concepts.

His responses made me question whether he had ever stepped foot in a law school classroom, let alone a courtroom. In a five-minute exchange reminiscent of the Socratic method used in law school, Kennedy, a former LSU law professor, exposed an inexperienced and unprepared Petersen. He was the third nominee in just a week whose fitness for the bench is under serious scrutiny.

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In fact, as of today, Petersen finally did the right thing and has withdrawn from consideration. Truthfully speaking, Petersen was no more prepared for the federal bench today than he was when he was nominated three months ago.

 

What was concerning about Petersen’s confirmation hearing, besides his ignorance of the law, was his lack of preparedness due to, in large part, a weak vetting system for judicial nominees. 

Why would Petersen prepare for a confirmation hearing when Senate Republicans unanimously supported nominees who were far less qualified?

Case in point, within the past week, President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's debate showdown Arpaio files libel suit against New York Times IMF's Christine Lagarde delays trip to Middle East MORE and his administration were determined to fill vacant seats in federal trial courts across this country with individuals who have worked to uphold discriminatory policies against the LGBT community; shown a blatant disregard for women’s rights; or received an unqualified rating by the American Bar Association, which conducts an objective, extensive, and nonpartisan peer evaluation of each nominee’s professional qualifications. Nonetheless, Senate Republicans still supported these nominees because their goal is to fill every federal judicial vacancy with partisan Republicans.

Thankfully, Kennedy, continues to hold nominees to a higher standard, making it clear that it is going to take more than one’s political affiliation to earn his vote. He is also serving as an example to all senators, reminding them of their constitutional duties to vet nominees in order to confirm the most qualified individuals to the federal bench, irrespective of political affiliation. 

Petersen did anything but solidify Kennedy’s vote. Not only did he prove that he is not qualified to serve, but judging from the cavalier nature by which he prepared for the confirmation hearing only further proved that he does not take the bench as serious as one should. This alone should deem him undeserving of a lifetime federal appointment.

While Petersen acknowledged that his background is not in litigation, he claimed to understand the challenges that federal judges face. If that were true, Petersen would have never accepted the judicial nomination in the first place. Appointing someone as inexperienced as Petersen can have a serious domino effect, profoundly impacting the lives of others and could and could change the legal landscape permanently.

The decisions made and opinions written by federal judges constantly shape public policy, molding the kind of society we live in today. This type of power and influence should only be given to a well-qualified candidate.

Rather than encourage the judiciary committee to do its job by thoroughly vetting nominees, the White House accuses opponents of trying to cause a distraction from Trump’s record-setting nominations. First, Kennedy, who is a Republican and supporter of Trump, could hardly be considered an opponent. Secondly, Kennedy was one of the Senate Republicans who warned the White House about serious issues surrounding nominee, Brett Talley of Alabama, as to his truthfulness and inexperience for the federal bench. This ultimately led the White House to withdraw its nomination.

Kennedy did his job by holding those accountable to the judicial system, respecting the process, the legal profession and the American people.

Yodit Tewolde is a former prosecutor for the Dallas County District Attorney's Office. She is currently a criminal defense attorney and legal analyst.