It will go down one as of the most excruciating job interviews of all time.
A Trump federal judicial nominee was utterly stymied by a line of questioning on basic knowledge of procedural law during his Senate confirmation hearing Thursday, raising questions about the fitness of Trump’s choices for the posts.
The man in the proverbial hot seat was Matthew Petersen, currently serving as a commissioner with the Federal Election Commission. Trump nominated him for the prestigious and pivotal federal circuit court of the District of Columbia in September.
Senator John Kennedy, a Republican, began his line of questioning to the five candidates present for the hearing by asking if any had not “tried a case to verdict”, to which Petersen raised his hand. Kennedy, a trained lawyer, zeroed in for a rapid fire line of questioning on some key legal principles that turn up in federal court cases:
“Do you know what a motion in limine is?” Kennedy asked.
“I would probably not be able to give you a good definition,” Petersen responded.
“Do you know what the Younger abstention doctrine is?” Kennedy continued.
“I’ve heard of it, but again,” Petersen responded, trailing off.
To non-lawyers, the exchange might have sounded like a succession of “gotcha” questions, esoteric queries intended to make the candidate appear unqualified. But the principles in question are in fact, foundational, essential knowledge for the job that Petersen is trying to be confirmed to perform.
A motion in limine, for example, is a request by council, outside the presence of a jury, to exclude evidence which a party feels is too prejudicial to even be mentioned in open court. They are a routine, nearly ubiquitous feature in almost any trial setting.
Recognizing that things were not going particularly well for himself, Petersen tried to explain his inability to answer with the fact that he’s taken a different path than the one “many successful district court judges” have taken.
“I understand the challenge that would be ahead of me if I were fortunate enough to be named a district court judge,” he said to an unimpressed looking Senator Kennedy.
“It is embarrassing,” Kennedy told reporters about one of Trump’s nominees,“and I think the president of the United States is getting some very, very bad advice.”
The senator also said he had raised concerns about Trump’s nominees to the White House, but added: “It’s like talking to the wind.”