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Why the White House Is Withdrawing the Nominations of Its Two Worst Judicial Picks

Sen. Chuck Grassley, Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, leaves a meeting at the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 9.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, leaves a meeting at the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 9. Win McNamee/Getty Images

On Wednesday, the White House confirmed to BuzzFeed’s Zoe Tillman that it has withdrawn the nomination of Brett Talley, one of President Donald Trump’s most controversial judicial nominees.

Trump had sought to appoint Talley to a district court in Alabama, and the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmed him on a party-line vote in November. Talley is just 36 years old and has never tried a case; the American Bar Association unanimously deemed him “not qualified.” His nomination ran into serious trouble when the New York Times reported that he had failed to disclose his marriage to Ann Donaldson, the chief of staff to the White House counsel. Talley lost further support after BuzzFeed uncovered thousands of posts he had apparently written on the sports website TideFans.com. One of those posts defended “the early KKK”; others disparaged Muslims, Roe v. Wade, and marriage equality.

In late November, Republican Sen. John Kennedy declared he would vote against Talley “in a heartbeat—twice, if I can.” Then, on Tuesday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley told CNN he had urged Trump to withdraw the nominations of both Talley and Jeff Mateer, another contentious judicial nominee. Shortly thereafter, BuzzFeed reported that Talley had offered to withdraw his nomination. Now the White House has accepted his offer. The Washington Post also reported on Wednesday that, according to Grassley, Mateer “will not be confirmed,” suggesting that his nomination has been scrapped.

Why did Senate Republicans draw a line in the sand over Talley and Mateer? As recently as early November, Talley’s confirmation appeared to be a foregone conclusion. Even though he has never tried a case, his lack of experience was not initially a dealbreaker for Republicans. Instead, what appears to have doomed Talley was a combination of arrogance and ineptitude. His failure to disclose his marriage to Donaldson, a likely conflict of interest, seemed to irk senators, as did the crude posts he apparently authored and concealed. Taken together, these missteps may have given the impression that Talley felt he didn’t have to play by the rules—that his confirmation was in the bag.

Unlikely Talley, Mateer never got a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Soon after the White House announced his nomination to a district court in Texas, CNN reported that Mateer had described transgender children as part of “Satan’s plan” and dismissed same-sex marriage as “debauchery.” He has also alleged that marriage equality will lead to the federal persecution of pastors. These comments made it difficult for Mateer’s defenders to claim that he will rule impartially on LGBTQ rights. And, like Talley, Mateer lacked significant legal experience to counterbalance his outlandish past statements.

By smothering both Talley and Mateer’s nominations, Senate Republicans reminded the White House that they will not humiliate themselves in their quest to pack the courts with conservatives. They may rubber-stamp most of Trump’s picks, but they draw the line at unqualified ideologues whose witlessness makes headlines. That line may allow far too many dubious nominees to ascend to the federal bench. But it is encouraging to learn that a line even exists.

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