For a presidency beset by problems of policy and politics at home and abroad, judicial appointments have been a rare bright spot for the Donald Trump administration. Any list of the White House’s biggest achievements begins (and arguably ends) with his successful appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, a placement that will likely reshape jurisprudence for decades, and below that come a huge number of appointments to lifetime seats on lower courts.
This week, even that began to look a little shaky. Two picks for district courts withdrew their nominations after Senator Chuck Grassley, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, publicly told the White House to reconsider their nominations, while a third was humiliated by a Republican senator during committee hearings.
On Tuesday, Grassley said he felt the administration should rethink the appointments of Brett Talley and Jeff Mateer. Talley had received the greater share of the attention: He had never tried a case (the fundamental task of district-court judges), received a rare “not qualified” rating from the American Bar Association, and has a passion for ghost-hunting. In 2011, he’d defended the KKK in a comment online. He also failed to disclose as required that his wife works for the White House counsel, who is deeply involved in choosing judicial nominees. Grassley’s call for reconsideration was all the more curious because when he made it, the Judiciary Committee had already sent Talley’s nomination to the full Senate, on a party-line vote. On Wednesday, Talley decided to withdraw.