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For the first time, a key Republican senator finds a Trump judicial nominee whom he can't support

For the first time, a key Republican senator finds a Trump judicial nominee whom he can't support
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) has advised the White House that the Senate should "not proceed" to confirm Brett Talley, who has never tried a case, as a federal district judge. (Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)

For the first time, one of President Trump’s proposed judges is in danger of defeat, as a key Republican said the Senate should not confirm Brett Talley, a 36-year old lawyer and blogger from Alabama who has never tried a case and was unanimously rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Assn.’s screening panel.

Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Talley on a party-line vote to be a federal district judge in Alabama.

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But the committee’s chairman, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), now believes Talley should not receive the lifetime appointment. He said Tuesday he advised the White House that the Senate should “not proceed” to confirm Talley.

Grassley also said he did not want to move forward with the nomination of Jeff Mateer, a Texas state attorney who was shown on videos making highly controversial comments about gays and transgender people.

In one talk, Mateer said he had heard about an elementary school child who was transgender and commented: “It just really shows you how Satan’s plan is working, and the destruction that’s going on.”

Shortly after the setback for the two district nominees, however, Senate Republicans narrowly confirmed a Trump nominee to a federal appeals court even though he, too, received an unanimous “not qualified’ rating rating from the American Bar Assn. panel, suggesting that Grassley’s opposition to the two district court nominees does not represent any wholesale shift by the Republican leadership.

Until now, Senate Republicans have voted in unison to approve dozens of Trump nominees, many of them young conservatives, to lifetime seats on federal district and appellate courts.

Last month, Talley appeared headed for confirmation despite his thin qualifications. He had graduated from the University of Alabama and Harvard Law School, wrote several horror novels and worked as a deputy to then-Alabama Atty. Gen. Luther Strange, currently the appointed U.S. senator from Alabama.

Earlier this year, Talley went to work in the Justice Department office that screens nominees for federal judgeships. His wife, Ann Donaldson, serves as the chief of staff to White House Counsel Donald McGahn.

The Bar Assn. report noted that Talley had spent little time practicing law and had never argued a motion in court. He was, however, an active blogger. During last year’s campaign, he tweeted his opposition to “Hillary Rotten Clinton.”

After the committee approved his nomination, senators took a closer look at his blogging and past writings. Grassley decided at that point that he no longer favored confirming Talley or holding a hearing for Mateer.

“Chairman Grassley has been concerned about statements made by nominees Mateer and Talley, and he’s conveyed those concerns to the White House,” Grassley spokesman Taylor Foy said Tuesday.

Liberal groups who have opposed many of Trump’s nominees were cheered by the announcement.

“This is welcome news. Brett Talley and Jeff Mateer are wholly unfit for the federal bench,” said Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice. “We believe this is an opportunity for a real turning point, if the White House uses this moment to reassess its criteria for judicial nominations.”

Those same groups, however, were dismayed by the approval of appeals court nominee L. Steven Grasz, a Nebraska state lawyer and former counsel for the Nebraska Republican Party. Unlike Talley, Grasz has solid legal credentials, but the American Bar Assn. panel said its members spoke in confidence to dozens of Nebraska lawyers who questioned whether Grasz could serve as an unbiased judge in light of his strongly held social and political views.

Senate Democrats noted Grasz was the first appellate nominee since 2006 to receive a “not qualified” rating from the Bar Assn. In the past, nominees who received a poor rating usually withdrew.

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But Grasz had the strong support of Nebraska’s two senators. And on Tuesday evening, the Senate voted 50 to 48 to confirm him. He will join the 8th Circuit Court based in St. Louis.

Sharon McGowan, a lawyer for Lambda Legal, said it was “exasperating, and yet unsurprising” that Grasz would gain support of Senate Republicans. Grasz “will wreak lasting damage on civil rights for generations to come,” she said.

For their part, several Senate Republicans denounced the American Bar Assn. as a left-leaning interest group that was biased against conservative nominees.

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