Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., starred in a viral exchange this week after he repeatedly stumped one of President Trump’s judicial nominees with basic questions about the law.
But he said he was just asking questions the nominee, Matthew Peterson, should have been able to answer.
“I enthusiastically supported President Trump for president, and I still do. In the past year, I have supported nearly every one of President Trump’s picks, but I don’t blindly support them,” Kennedy said in a Friday statement to Yahoo News when asked whether he would support Peterson’s nomination for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
“I ask questions that I expect them to be able to answer,” he continued. “In doing so, I’m just doing my job. That’s why we have a Madisonian-inspired separation of powers. We need checks and balances so that we can serve the American people well.”
In the Thursday exchange, given that he only had five minutes, Kennedy started by asking a panel of Trump’s nominees if they had never tried a case to verdict in a courtroom. Petersen raised his hand. Kennedy went on to ask simple questions about his experience in the courtroom.
Peterson acknowledged that he had never argued a motion or tried a case in state or federal court. He also testified that he has never taken a deposition by himself, and that the last time he read the Federal Rules of Evidence comprehensively was when he was in law school. He could not define or identify the Daubert standard (a measure for determining the admissibility of expert testimony), a motion in limine (a request that certain evidence may not be introduced), the Younger abstention doctrine (the ruling that federal courts have strong obligations to hear cases in their jurisdictions) or the Pullman abstention doctrine (a principle that federal courts should give state courts the first chance to interpret state law).
Video of the questioning spread across the Internet after Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., shared it on Twitter — describing it as “MUST WATCH.”
The Senate unanimously confirmed Peterson in 2008 to his current position — a commissioner on the FEC. Trump nominated Petersen to serve as a U.S. district court judge on Sept. 7, 2017.
Both Petersen and Kennedy received juris doctors from the University of Virginia School of Law.
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