Federal district court nominee Matthew Spencer Petersen’s embarrassing unfamiliarity with basic trial court and litigation concepts recently led me to observe that concrete trial and pretrial experience should be a baseline requirement for all federal trial court nominees. Not everyone sees it that way. At the National Review, Carrie Severino downplays Peterson’s lack of trial experience, noting that his work at the Federal Election Commission over the past decade “gave him significant exposure to the sort of regulatory cases that the [U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the court to which Peterson has been nominated] regularly decides.” And at Prawfsblawg, Howard Wasserman similarly suggested that “[t]here is a benefit to having judges of various backgrounds” on the district court, and that a nominee’s failure to have tried a case should not be disqualifying. Other commentators have made comparable observations.
I respectfully disagree. Trial judges simply must have real trial experience, for the sake of the judicial institution and its users.