Trump Exorcises Ghost-Hunter Talley as Willett, Grasz Confirmed

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By Patrick L. Gregory

President Donald Trump has reportedly withdrawn the nomination of Brett Talley to be a district court judge.

The report comes on the heels of a milestone for the Trump Administration, as Fifth Circuit nominee and current Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett was confirmed Dec. 13 by a 50-47 vote, and Eighth Circuit nominee and former Nebraska chief deputy attorney general Steve Grasz was confirmed by a 50-48 vote Dec. 12. Eleven Trump nominees have now been confirmed to the U.S. Courts of Appeals.

Talley, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy with a penchant for ghost-hunting, faced criticism for not disclosing his marriage to White House Counsel Don McGahn’s chief of staff.

He was also under fire for receiving, like Grasz, a unanimous “not qualified” rating from the American Bar Association.

The Trump Administration confirmed that Talley’s nomination wouldn’t proceed, according to BuzzFeed News.

Talley’s nomination had made it through the Senate Judiciary Committee.

But Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) counseled Trump to withdraw the nominations of Talley and district court nominee Jeff Mateer, CNN reported Dec. 12. Grassley said Dec. 13 that Mateer’s nomination also won’t proceed, according to the Washington Post.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) thanked Grassley for his “leadership” in asking the Trump Administration to reconsider those nominations, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today.

Talley was nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Talley was “a profoundly unqualified judicial nominee” because he hasn’t “tried a single case in a courtroom” and “failed to submit 15,000+ of his online posts,” in a tweet Dec. 13.

“He should NEVER have been nominated and he certainly shouldn’t be vetting future nominees,” she said.

Feinstein is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Mateer was nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas and has received scrutiny for describing transgender children as being part of “Satan’s plan.” The ABA gave Mateer a “qualified” rating. “

Philosophy

Eleventh Circuit nominee and current George Appeals Court Judge Elizabeth L. Branch appeared at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Dec. 13, along with several district court nominees.

Blumenthal questioned Branch about her self-described originalist and textualist judicial philosophy.

Blumenthal quoted a speech in which Branch described that philosophy, saying, “When I interpret a provision, be it constitutional, statutory, or even a contractual provision, I am bound by the words in front of me, and I look to what the words meant when they were drafted.”

Branch’s record shows “that I am a textualist and originalist,” she acknowledged.

But “at the end of the day, I am bound by U.S. Supreme Court precedent,” she said.

Kacsmaryk, LGBT Rights

Matthew J. Kacsmaryk, who was nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, was questioned about his record on LGBT rights at the hearing Dec. 13.

Kacsmaryk is deputy general counsel at the First Liberty Institute, a religious freedom organization that is representing bakers that refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple’s wedding, in a case similar to an ongoing dispute at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), said Kacsmaryk had said things that were “just genuinely disturbing” about LGBT people.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) quoted Kacsmaryk as having argued that recognizing same-sex marriage would cast family values into disarray and put children at risk.

What evidence is there to that effect? Coons asked.

Kacsmaryk said that FLI represents faith-based adoption agencies which are willing “to have all hands on deck,” including from potential LGBT adoptive parents.

It was a mischaracterization to suggest that he didn’t think same-sex couples could be loving and supporting parents, Kacsmaryk said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick L. Gregory in Washington at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com

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