Senate Judiciary Committee hearing room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Photo by Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM.
After failing a senator’s legal pop quiz last week, one of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees has withdrawn his nomination, a White House official confirmed Monday.
The official said Trump accepted the withdrawal of Matthew Petersen, a nominee for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Petersen made headlines last week during his confirmation hearing after he failed to answer basic legal questions from Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana.
A video of the Dec. 13 hearing garnered millions of views. Kennedy asked Petersen to define terms like “motion in limine” and “Daubert standard.” Petersen, a Federal Elections Commissioner who has never tried a case or argued a motion in court, said his background was not in litigation.
“I would probably not be able to give you a good definition right here at the table,” he eventually told the senator when asked a second time about “motion in limine.”
In a withdrawal letter to the president obtained by the National Law Journal, Petersen said his nomination “has become a distraction.” He added that he was looking forward to applying his “experience in administrative and constitutional law” in the D.C. court, where he said “regulatory matters and cases challenging agency action — rather than trials” dominate the docket.
“I had hoped that my nearly two decades of public service might carry more weight than my two worst minutes on television,” wrote Petersen, a former Wiley Rein summer associate and graduate of the University of Virginia Law School. “However, I am no stranger to political realities, and I do not wish to be a continued distraction from the important work of your Administration and the Senate.”
Petersen is the third Trump judicial nominee to drop out of the confirmation process. Brett Talley, a nominee for the Middle District of Alabama, and Jeff Mateer, a nominee for the Eastern District of Texas, are not moving forward, the White House confirmed last week.
Speaking to a local news station Monday, Kennedy said Trump called him Monday to discuss Petersen, and agreed with Kennedy’s criticisms of his qualifications.
“[Trump] has told me, ‘Kennedy, when some of my guys send someone who is not qualified, you do your job,’” Kennedy said in the interview.
Still, Trump has seen continued success on the nominations. Last week, the Senate confirmed Trump’s 12th nominee to appellate courts. Trump now holds the record for most appellate nominees confirmed in the first year of a presidency.
You can watch video of the exchange below:
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