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WATCH: Trump Judicial Pick Completely Stammers Through Really Easy Legal Questions


Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana reamed a panel of President Donald Trump’s judicial picks in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing video which quickly went viral and gleaned more than 2.09 million views between Thursday night and Friday morning.

Here is Sen. Kennedy’s exchange with Matthew Spencer Petersen, whom President Trump nominated to a Federal judgeship in the District of Columbia. Petersen was nominated to the Federal Election Commission as a Republican member by President George W. Bush. He remains in that position. According to his official biography, he graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1999, where he served on the law review. He earned his bachelor’s degree magna cum laude from Brigham Young University three years earlier.

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who chairs the judiciary committee, has urged President Trump to withdraw at least two of his picks. The following exchange highlights why. Questions from Sen. Kennedy are in bold type. The answers of Matthew Petersen follow.


Have any of you ever not tried a case to verdict in a courtroom?

(Kennedy recognizes Mr. Petersen as raising his hand.)

Have you ever tried a jury trial? 

I have not.







State or federal court?

I have not.

Have you ever taken a deposition?

I was involved in taking depositions when I was an associate at (firm name) when I first came out of law school, but that was, uh . . .

How many depositions?

I would . . . I’d be struggling to remember.

Less than ten? 


Less than five?

Probably somewhere in there?

Have you ever taken a deposition by yourself?

I believe . . . No.

Have you ever argued a motion in state court?

I have not.

Have you ever argued a motion in federal court?


When was the last time you read the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure?

Uh, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, um, I have . . . In my current position, I obviously don’t need to stay as . . . um, uh, you know, uh . . .  invested in those on a day-to-day basis, but I do try to keep up to speed . . . we do have, uh, active at the Federal Election Commission roughly 70 attorneys who work under our, our guidance, uh, including a large litigation division . . . and, um . . . as a Commissioner, we oversee that litigation, we advise them on overall legal strategy . . . uh, provide recommendations and edits to briefs . . . and so forth . . . and meet them about, uh, how we’re going to handle . . .

I’ve got to ask you this, sorry to interrupt, but we’re only given five minutes for five of you. When’s the last time you read the Federal Rules of Evidence?

The Federal Rules of Evidence, all the way through, with, um?  Well, comprehensively, would have been in law school.  Uh, obviously, I have been involved in, when I was a associate, that was, uh, something we had to stay, uh, closely abreast of, and, uh, there have been some issues dealing with evidentiary issues that will cause me to, um, examine those periodically in, in, in our oversight role of the litigation division at the Federal Election Commission.

Well, as a trial judge, you’re obviously going to have witnesses.  Can you tell me what the Daubert standard is?

Uh, Senator Kennedy, I don’t have that readily, uh, at my disposal, uh, but I would be happy to take a closer look at that.  Okay. That is not something that I have had to, uh . . .

Do you know what a motion in limine is?

Uh, yes?  I haven’t . . . I’m . . . again, my background is not, uh, in litigation, as, as, uh, when I was replying to Chairman Grassley . . . um, I haven’t had to, um . . . again, do a deep dive, and I, and I, understand, and, and I, appreciate this, this, line of questioning . . . I understand, uh, the challenge that would be ahead of me if I were fortunate enough to become a district court judge.  I understand that, um, the path that many successful district court judges have taken has been a different one than I have taken.  Um, but I, as I mentioned in my earlier answer, I believe that the path I have taken, um, to be one who has been in a decision-making role, um, on, uh, I would guess now, somewhere between fifteen hundred and two thousand enforcement matters, um, overseeing, I don’t know how many, uh, cases in federal court that the Commission has been a party to during my time.

I’ve read your resume. Just for the record, do you know what a motion in limine is? 

I would probably not be able to give you a good definition right here at the table.

Do you know the Younger Abstention Doctrine?

I’ve heard of it, but I, again . . .

How about the Pullman Abstention Doctrine? 

(Petersen quickly stammers inaudibly.)

You see that a lot in Federal court.  Okay.  Do any of you Blog?  Okay?


Did any of you Blog in support of the Ku Klux Klan?

No, Senator.

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Aaron Keller holds a juris doctor degree from the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a broadcast journalism degree from Syracuse University. He is a former anchor and executive producer for the Law&Crime Network and is now deputy editor-in-chief for the Law&Crime website. DISCLAIMER:  This website is for general informational purposes only. You should not rely on it for legal advice. Reading this site or interacting with the author via this site does not create an attorney-client relationship. This website is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney. Speak to a competent lawyer in your jurisdiction for legal advice and representation relevant to your situation.