Federal judicial nominee who couldn't define 'motion in limine' withdraws

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Matthew Petersen

Screenshot of Matthew Petersen from his hearing.

A federal judicial nominee has withdrawn after a viral video clip of his confirmation hearing showed him struggling to define “motion in limine” and “the Daubert standard.”

Matthew Spencer Petersen, a member of the Federal Election Commission, said in a letter to President Donald Trump that his nomination had become “a distraction,” and it was not fair to Trump or his administration. The Washington Post and the Huffington Post are among the publications with stories.

Petersen acknowledged in the hearing last Wednesday that he hasn’t tried a case to verdict or argued a motion, although he has participated in a handful of depositions. He is a former Wiley Rein associate who has been a member of the Federal Election Commission since 2008.

The video clip shows Sen. John Neely Kennedy, R-La., asking Petersen about his experience and familiarity with legal concepts.

When Kennedy asked Petersen to define the Daubert standard, which governs the admission of expert evidence, Petersen replied, “I don’t have that readily at my disposal.”

Kennedy also asked Petersen if he knew the definition of a motion in limine, which is used to exclude evidence at trial. “My background is not in litigation,” Petersen said. “I haven’t had to do a deep dive.”

Petersen said in his statement that he was honored to have been nominated to the federal court in Washington, D.C.

“I had hoped my nearly two decades of public service might carry more weight than my two worst minutes on television,” he said. “However, I am no stranger to political realities, and I do not wish to be a continued distraction from the important work of your administration and the Senate.”

The ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary had given Petersen a “qualified” rating.

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