We are going to take a pause for the cause of establishing some context for the circus that has broken out in the Senate Judiciary Committee recently. This is one of the most important confirmation panels that we have in our government because this is the group of elected officials that decides who gets to serve as federal judges. These are lifetime appointments so they are about as important as you can get in terms of influence on the American legal and cultural landscape. These posts are also highly profiled, highly prestigious, highly compensated and highly sought after.
Presidents have control over the nominating process. So it is no surprise that when a new president is elected, his qualified friends and friends of friends will make up the list of nominees to these amazingly valuable posts. Note the term “qualified” because therein lies the rub: if you have a duly elected president who possesses exactly NONE of the qualifications that have historically been required for holding that position, how much respect can you expect that president to have for the very concept of “qualifications”?
Can you really blame Donald Trump for just taking a stinking piss all over the idea that someone has to meet certain prerequisites for a job in order to do it? As far as he’s concerned, just looking and acting like you can do the job is sufficient. He was elected president without ever having held elective office or serving in the military. He has never worked in or for any government agency, nor has he studied the law or public policy. He literally has as much qualification to be president of the United States as Kanye West. I’ll go you one better- he literally has as much qualification to be president of the United States as Kim Kardashian-West.
So when it came time for Trump and his minions to make nominations, we got a motely crew of characters- the motley-est amongst them being a conservative blogger who trafficked in white supremacist conspiracy theories (Brett Talley) and an appointed FEC official who knew his way around a courtroom about as well as your average labradoodle (Matthew Petersen). Think I’m exaggerating for dramatic effect? Here is a two-minute clip of Matthew Petersen being questioned by the Senate panel prior to a confirmation vote:
That is bad. Petersen literally knows NOTHING that he is supposed to know if he is going to serve as a federal judge. And that is terrifying. I will share with you what Donald Trump and his merry band of Know-Nothings obviously don’t understand: All lawyers are not qualified to sit on the bench as judges- especially not the federal bench where the stakes are always very high.
Here is a broad generalization of the people who complete law school: Some are creatures of the classroom, so they wind up teaching or somewhere in academia. Some are creatures of the boardroom so they wind up in business somewhere. Some are creatures of the courtroom and they wind up trying cases or facilitating legal actions. It is that third group where your judges have to come from. Creatures of the courtroom know the rules of engagement because their survival depends on it. The rest of us are vaguely familiar so when we really need to know something about courtroom operations we call our homeboy we graduated with who is trying cases or already on the bench. Sure we know more than anybody who didn’t go to law school but that won’t cut it when you are the one enforcing the rules in real-time. Your can’t pretend like you know what you are doing because your clerk may be able to write opinions for you and summarize briefs but she can’t make rulings for you from the bench. That’s on you and it is easy to look like a Know-Nothing in that scenario because you can bet your ass those attorneys in front of you know the rules and will embarrass you if you don’t.
In my first year of law school my Civil Procedure professor made a profound statement of truth right out the gate on the very first day. He said “Welcome to Civil Procedure. This is the course that separates the REAL lawyers from the pretenders.” Professor Levin meant no harm nor offense to the two-thirds of us that probably met the description as “pretenders.” He meant courtroom lawyers as “real lawyers.” He just wanted us to know what we were getting into. I eked out a “C” in Civ Pro which is probably why I became a member of that second group listed up top- just like Matthew Petersen did.
In Petersen’s defense, anybody who had a chance to snag a federal judgeship would jump at it but he was way out of his depth because- obviously- he was no creature of the courtroom. Yet, because of the abject ignorance, laziness and hubris of the man we elected president, Petersen could have been making decisions that impacted the country for the next 3o or 40 years. Luckily for us, Petersen withdrew his name after this debacle and went back to his comfy perch at the Federal Elections Commission.
But the threat of the Know-Nothings persists. We have a lifelong physician turned political hack and right-wing kook running the Department of Housing and Urban Development. That’s Dr. Ben Carson for those of you who wondered whatever became of the good doctor. Trump gave him the “colored” cabinet post despite the fact that he doesn’t know jack shit about housing programs, housing law, or housing policy.
Betsy Devos runs our Department of Education despite never having set foot in a classroom as a teacher a day in her life and her lifelong opposition to the very existence of public schools. Her biggest qualification was the checks that she wrote to the Republican Party and to Trump’s campaign. Plus her brother Eric Prince started Blackwater which every chicken-hawk GOP politician fantasizes about when he sleeps at night so there’s that. Our schools are being run by a certifiable nut job who thinks teachers should have guns in schools in case of a grizzly bear attack. I bullshit you not.
So while it was Matthew Petersen who suffered the greatest public humiliation in a legal setting since Christopher Darden had OJ try on those gloves, it serves as a reminder of just how little the people know who are in charge of our government today. These folks are the actual Know-Nothings- not just pretending to know nothing like the original political party of the 19th century. Those nativist secret society terrorists were really scary but they got NOTHING on this edition of the Know-Nothings. These fools are the real deal.