- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The White House will cancel two of President Trump’s own judicial picks after senators raised questions about their fitness to serve on the federal courts, lawmakers said Wednesday.

Neither Brett Talley, who failed to disclose his ties to the White House chief counsel’s office and appeared to blog in support of the Ku Klux Klan, nor Jeff Mateer, who called transgender children part of “Satan’s plan,” will proceed, said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, who had told the White House earlier this week to revoke the picks.

The withdrawals are a blow to Mr. Trump, suggesting a rocky vetting process at the White House as the administration moves to try to fill dozens of empty judgeships.

But the Senate did deliver one victory to Mr. Trump, confirming Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett to a seat on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Mr. Trump hadn’t officially nominated Mr. Mateer, so nixing him will be easy. But Mr. Talley already had a confirmation hearing and was approved by the Judiciary Committee on a party-line 11-9 vote. He was awaiting a floor vote, but now will have to have his nomination formally withdrawn.

The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment on the derailed picks or what went wrong, but Mr. Grassley said he didn’t think there was a breakdown in the Senate’s own vetting process.

“I think that you’re talking about when somebody’s 40 years old, what goes on in a 40-year period of time, there’s no way to have an absolutely perfect way of vetting,” he said.

“It’s about a month from the time we received the name before it gets put up for a hearing, so it’s not a matter of time,” he said.

He said the proliferation of social media opportunities has expanded the public record that needs to be examined for nominees.

Sen. John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican who sounded the alarm on the White House vetting process last month, said neither of the two nominees was likely to have been confirmed by the Senate, so pulling their nominations was a smart move.

“I think the White House made a wise decision,” he said.

Liberal advocacy groups had rallied against the two nominees, with Mr. Mateer facing the most criticism for his past comments on transgender people.

“This is a victory for anyone who believes in the ideal of justice for all,” said Marge Baker, executive vice president of People for the American Way. “It is a testament to the hard work of advocates across the country who made clear that hate has no place in our nation’s courts.”

She said given Mr. Mateer’s past comments, it was clear no member of the gay community could have gotten a fair shake in his courtroom.

“The fact that he was nominated at all is a black mark on the record of the Trump administration,” Ms. Baker said.

Mr. Mateer had been slated for a Texas district court while Mr. Talley was nominated to an Alabama district court.

The American Bar Association’s judicial review committee had unanimously rated Mr. Talley “not qualified” for a judgeship, and Democrats said he lacked courtroom experience, making his pick to be a judge all the more stunning.

Mr. Talley was also a frequent presence on social media, where he pledged support for the National Rifle Association and reportedly defended the KKK.

Mr. Talley also didn’t disclose on his confirmation questionnaire process that his wife is Ann Donaldson, chief of staff to the White House’s top lawyer, Donald F. McGahn II. Being married to someone who worked in the White House’s legal shop could have been a tricky conflict of interest in some cases.

At the time, the White House defended his pick, saying his experience as a lawyer for the state of Alabama and current job in the Justice Department meant he was qualified.

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