PRESIDENT TRUMP has confirmed 12 nominees to judgeships on the federal courts of appeals — more than any other modern president achieved during his first year. Yet while Republicans may pride themselves on this record, a string of recent embarrassments shows that the Senate is rushing too quickly through Mr. Trump’s choices.
The White House announced last week that it would not be moving forward with two nominees for district court posts, Brett Talley of Alabama and Jeff Mateer of Texas. Mr. Talley and Mr. Mateer faced resistance from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) — though both senators voted in support of Mr. Talley’s nomination before the committee.
The case of Mr. Mateer, who referred to transgender children as “Satan’s plan,” is the less concerning of the two. Before Mr. Mateer went far in the confirmation process, questions arose over whether he had failed to disclose his hateful comments. By the time Mr. Trump withdrew his support, Mr. Mateer had yet to even file the paperwork required for his committee hearing.
Mr. Talley, on the other hand, is a case study of how the confirmation process has broken down. Unanimously rated “not qualified” to be a judge by the American Bar Association, he has never tried a case or filed a motion in federal court. His hobbies have included ghost-hunting and right-wing political blogging. Yet he won the support of every Republican on the Judiciary Committee. Mr. Grassley, Mr. Kennedy and even Mr. Talley’s home-state Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) balked only when it surfaced that the nominee had failed to disclose both his wife’s work with White House Counsel Don McGahn and a number of his contentious Internet comments — including one defending “the first KKK.”
We are glad that these senators raised concerns about Mr. Talley’s nomination and that the White House heeded their warnings. But it should not have taken these revelations about Mr. Talley’s lack of candor to make clear his lack of qualification for a lifetime appointment to the bench. Going forward, the committee must take Mr. Talley’s nomination as a reminder of its responsibility to vet nominees thoroughly and carefully instead of rubber-stamping the president’s selections.
Republicans may already have learned their lesson, as we saw when Mr. Kennedy aggressively quizzed Matthew Spencer Petersen on his courtroom knowledge during Mr. Petersen’s confirmation hearing for a position on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The nominee proved unable to answer even basic legal questions. Mr. Petersen, currently chair of the Federal Election Commission, may well be an excellent election lawyer. But he is clearly unqualified to be a federal judge.
We hope that Mr. Kennedy continues to hold nominees to the high professional standard appropriate for a lifetime appointment — and that his Republican colleagues, including Mr. Grassley, share that commitment. The committee can start by calling back Thomas Farr, the nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, to explain discrepancies regarding his knowledge of a voter-suppression effort by then-Sen. Jesse Helms’s 1990 campaign.