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Trump Nominee for Federal Judgeship Has Never Tried a Case

A 36-year-old lawyer who has never tried a case and who was unanimously deemed “not qualified” by the American Bar Association has been approved for a lifetime federal district judgeship by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The lawyer, Brett Talley, is the fourth judicial nominee under President Trump to receive a “not qualified” rating from the bar association and the second to receive the rating unanimously. Since 1989, the association has unanimously rated only two other judicial nominees as not qualified.

The Senate committee’s vote on Thursday to approve Mr. Talley, who graduated from Harvard Law School in 2007 and is a deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department, fell along party lines; Republican members outnumber Democrats on the committee 11 to nine. Mr. Talley will now face a full vote in the Senate. If confirmed, he would serve as a trial judge in his home state of Alabama.

Mr. Talley’s nomination is just one of the latest examples of Mr. Trump’s efforts to reshape the nation’s courts, packing them with young, deeply conservative judges.

Mr. Talley’s lack of experience drew searing questions from Democratic members of the committee. Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the minority whip, asked Mr. Talley in a written questionnaire, “Do you think it is advisable to put people with literally no trial experience on the federal district court bench?”

Mr. Talley demurred. “It would be inappropriate for me as a nominee to comment on the advisability of any nomination,” he wrote.

Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking member of the committee, asked if Mr. Talley had ever argued a motion in Federal District Court, given that he had never tried a case. He had not.

Ms. Feinstein also pointed to Mr. Talley’s prolific social media presence before his nomination. He once referred to Hillary Clinton as “Hillary Rotten Clinton” on his public Twitter account, which is now private.

In 2013, he wrote on his blog that armed revolution was an important defense against tyrannical government. Ms. Feinstein asked in her written questions when Mr. Talley believed it would become appropriate for American citizens to participate in an armed uprising against the government.

He replied that he did not believe any situation in American history — with the “possible exception” of slavery — had called for armed rebellion.

At the committee vote on Thursday, Ms. Feinstein took greatest issue with Mr. Talley’s professed views on gun control. In 2013, about a month after a gunman killed 20 children at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., Mr. Talley on his blog pledged his total support to the National Rifle Association, “financially, politically and intellectually.”

Ms. Feinstein said she had asked Mr. Talley whether, if confirmed, he would commit to recusing himself in cases involving weapons. He refused.

“I find this unacceptable,” she said.

Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa and the chairman of the committee, defended Mr. Talley’s qualifications. “Mr. Talley has a wide breadth of various legal experience that has helped to expose him to different aspects of federal law and the issues that would come before him,” he said in a statement.

Mr. Grassley also cast doubt on the importance of the bar association’s rating. “Senators can decide for themselves if the A.B.A.’s metric of what makes a nominee qualified is proper in these cases,” he said.

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, in 2012 had praised the bar association’s practice of evaluating judicial nominees as an important way to distinguish between people who merely had political connections and people who belonged on the bench.

Mr. Grassley also noted that other judicial nominees rated “not qualified” had been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, at times unanimously.

Other judicial nominees have faced scrutiny for their lack of trial experience. In 2010, Jeff Sessions, then a senator from Alabama, asked Nancy Freudenthal, who had been nominated to Wyoming District Court by President Barack Obama, about her having never tried a case before a jury. Ms. Freudenthal was eventually approved by the Senate, 96 to 1.

Additionally, the comparative rarity of “not qualified” ratings for judicial nominees under previous administrations may have been due, at least in part, to a difference in procedure. Every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower, with the exception of George W. Bush, screened potential nominees with the American Bar Association before publicly announcing them — a tradition the Trump administration has decided to shun.

But that change alone does not account for the number of unqualified nominees under Mr. Trump, said Kristine Lucius, executive vice president for policy of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of civil rights and labor groups.

“It is unprecedented to have this many, this quickly, in this short a time,” she said. Of Mr. Talley, she added, “When you think of how much power a district court nominee has over life and death decisions every day, it’s really irresponsible to put someone on with that little experience.”

The Senate committee on Thursday also approved four other nominees for federal judgeships, including Holly Lou Teeter, who also received a “not qualified” rating.

Source: Washington Post

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