1. Opinion

Ruth: Don't wrap this unqualified nominee in a black robe

Brett Talley in 2014. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Matt McClain
Brett Talley in 2014. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Matt McClain
Published Nov. 15, 2017

First as a candidate and then during his transition to the presidency, Donald Trump repeatedly boasted that his administration would be filled to the gills with nothing but the "best people." Now there's some genuine fake news for you.

Or consider this. As of 2016, the American Bar Association reported there are 1,315,561 licensed lawyers in the United States. Yes, that is an awful lot of ipsos and factos.

And yet when it came time to fill a federal district judgeship in Alabama, the very best the Trump administration could find to serve in the lifetime post was 36-year-old Brett J. Talley, Esq., who has been a lawyer for only three years and has never tried a case in court.

You would think among those 1,315,561 mouthpieces there must of been thousands of men and women with years of vast experience as prosecutors, trial lawyers, legal scholars and currently sitting state court judges all well versed in the nuances of federal law.

And of those 1,315,561 attorneys, Talley somehow emerged as the budding Louis Brandeis of Alabama? Perhaps it was his nuanced grasp of the law, which Talley demonstrated by accusing advocates who called for more stringent gun control measures after the Newtown, Conn., murders of 20 first-graders and six school employees of trying to exploit a tragedy.

Talley is merely another in a long list of Trump appointees of dubious qualifications, including most notably the nomination of Kathleen Hartnett White to chair the Council on Environmental Quality. She has argued that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are essential nutrients for plant growth.

And until he was forced to withdraw for consideration to become the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientist after it was disclosed he was playing footsie with the Russians during the 2016 campaign, former radio talk show host Sam Clovis had zero training or education as a, well, scientist.

How might we view the Trump White House's Spamalot approach to issuing the call to public service? The Jest and the Lightest?

It's not that Talley, the Matlock of Alabama, doesn't bring some unique bona fides to his nomination to take a seat on the federal bench.

After all he is married to another lawyer, Ann Donaldson, who as fate would have it also serves as the chief of staff to White House legal counsel Donald F. McGahn II.

How else to explain how a guy with less trial experience than Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny could wind up on the verge of being handed a federal court judgeship good for the rest of his life?

Oddly enough though, Talley neglected to list his wife's name on a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee form that asked the nominee to disclose any family members and others who are likely "to present potential conflicts of interest."

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Nor did Talley bring up his wife when he was asked to describe any contacts he may have had with the White House during his nomination process. Who needs to get all bogged down with details when you're merely being considered for a federal judicial post?

Well it's possible the still wet behind the ears Talley may not know or grasp what his wife does for a living. It's legal stuff, or whatever. Still it might come as something of a revelation to Talley that federal judges often find themselves presiding over matters that involve presidential actions.

Talley's nomination was passed out of the judiciary committee along strict party lines. And it was somewhat historically noteworthy. To date the Trump administration has submitted four judicial nominees to the Senate who have received a "not qualified" rating by the American Bar Association. But Talley is only the second nominee since 1989 to unanimously receive the ABA's "not qualified," or perhaps better put, the "Are you out of your mind to try to put this guy in a robe?" rating.

Talley's unique lack of qualifications to become a federal judge, given the pool of 1,315,561 other potential applicants, recalled the 1970 controversy over President Richard Nixon's eventually rejected choice of G. Harold Carswell, who harbored some white supremacist leanings, to take a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Then-Nebraska Sen. Roman Hruska robustly defended Carswell, famously arguing in a not too thinly veiled anti-Semitic speech: "Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they, and a little chance? We can't have all (Louis) Brandeises, (Felix) Frankfurters and (Benjamin) Cardozos."

Given Trump's eye for talent, mediocrity would be a welcomed step up.


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