Trump’s Fourth ABA ‘Not Qualified’ Pick Is Youthful Ghost Hunter

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By Patrick L. Gregory

Brett Joseph Talley would be among the nation’s youngest federal district court judges if confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama.

Born in 1981, the nominee’s youth likely factored into the unanimous “not qualified” rating he received from the American Bar Association Nov. 7. The ABA prefers nominees with at least 12 years of legal experience. The ABA hasn’t released an explanation for their rating.

Talley is the fourth Trump judicial nominee to receive a “not qualified” rating. He’s been a Trump loyalist and a gun-rights supporter.

The nominee is currently a deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy and has interesting hobbies: writing award-winning short horror stories and hunting ghosts.

A Washington Post reporter joined Talley in a ghost hunt in 2014, saying the then-speechwriter for Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) likes “to find graves that seem interesting and ask questions out loud in case a spirit wants to answer,” while armed “with just a voice recorder and flashlights.” The reporter said it seemed Talley channeled voices “with a wink and a smirk. He knows it is absurd.”

After graduating from Harvard Law School in 2007, Talley worked at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher in Washington, as an Alabama deputy solicitor general, a writer for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, and a clerk for Judges L. Scott Coogler of the Northern District of Alabama and Joel Dubina of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

President Donald Trump nominated Talley on Sept. 7.

The Trump administration in March informed the ABA that it didn’t wish to participate in the association’s pre-nomination evaluation process, which originated in 1953. The Obama administration did participate, but the George W. Bush administration didn’t.

Eighth Circuit nominee Steve Grasz became the first court of appeals nominee to receive a “not qualified” rating since 2006 on Oct. 30.

The Justice Department, where Talley is currently employed, didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

Trump Loyalist

Talley urged “never Trump” Republicans to vote for Trump in a 2016 CNN piece.

A Hillary Clinton presidency would mean “liberalism in ascendancy,” Talley warned.

Trump supporters aren’t, “as many in the media and party have branded them, backward racists or low-information voters,” he said.

Rather, they’re “the farmers and the teachers, the steelworkers and the coal miners, the carpenters and electricians, the blue-collar workers that keep the engine of our prosperity running” yet “have been hurt the most by the economic slide of the last decade,” he said.

Feinstein Concerns, Guns

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said she was concerned about Talley’s “overall qualifications and preparation for becoming a lifetime-appointed federal judge” in questions she submitted to him.

“You graduated from law school only 10 years ago, and you have spent only a small portion of time since then practicing law,” Feinstein said.

Talley’s response cited experience including leading “an 18-state coalition in a case I filed,” which challenged endangered species regulations in 2016.

Feinstein also questioned Talley concerning pro-gun posts on his “Government in Exile” blog.

“Today, I pledge my support to the NRA,” Talley wrote in 2013.

Talley, who joined the National Rifle Association in 2016, refused to commit to recusing himself from cases involving the NRA at his Oct. 17 confirmation hearing, Feinstein noted.

Talley responded that he would apply the recusal statute, along with applicable ethics cannons, if confirmed.

In 2013, Talley referenced Feinstein’s support of gun-control measures, saying that he didn’t blame her “for her stance on gun control,” but also didn’t “trust her on the issue.”

Talley’s nomination is still pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick L. Gregory in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at

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