Don’t let our broken politics contaminate our courtrooms

Don’t let our broken politics contaminate our courtrooms

By now you’ve likely seen the viral video of a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, where Matthew Petersen, a judicial nominee for the D.C. District Court at the time, acknowledged that he had never tried a case and was unfamiliar with certain aspects of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and related trial-procedure doctrines. The press and public have heaped ridicule on Petersen the past few days, mocking his performance in the hearing. He withdrew his name from consideration on Monday afternoon.

Before the nation’s short attention span moves on from this videoed incident, the focus of our collective lens should shift for a moment to the man who was asking the questions, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.).

Kennedy has extolled his own virtue in the wake of this viral video, insisting that his queries were meant only to preserve “a Madisonian-inspired separation of powers.” In truth, what happened last week seems to be little more than a congressional tantrum, masked by a calm Southern drawl.

Prior to last week’s hearing, Petersen provided materials to members of the Judiciary Committee, including Kennedy, expressly stating multiple times that his “experience has not been in court or directly litigating cases.” Why, then, did Kennedy feel the need to subsequently ask Petersen, in quick succession, whether he had ever:

  • tried a case to verdict;
  • tried a jury trial;
  • tried a civil trial;
  • tried a criminal trial;
  • tried a bench trial;
  • tried a case in federal court;
  • tried a case in state court;
  • argued a motion in state court; or
  • argued a motion in federal court?

And if Kennedy already knew that Petersen was not a litigator, why spring a…


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